‘I’ve received calls from friends crying’: Ukrainian students share the reality of the war

We spoke to four young Ukrainians about their personal experience with the ongoing war

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, causing thousands of deaths and millions to flee, we spoke to four young Ukrainians in Manchester about their personal experiences and what it means to be Ukrainian.

All of them have lived in Ukraine for most of their lives and all of them have family and friends currently caught up in the conflict, many of whom have decided to risk their lives and fight.

Through the Ukrainian Society, they’ve been working tirelessly to raise awareness, funds and support for Ukraine. Last week they managed to fill around seven cars’ worth of essentials to send to refugees in Poland.

They currently have a fundraiser which they’ll be supporting through a variety of events across the uni over the following weeks which you can keep up to date with by following their Instagram.

‘Ukraine is the last frontier’

Kosta is a first year student at the University of Manchester. He was born in Ukraine and lived his whole life there until a couple of months ago when he moved to Manchester to begin his first year of uni. All of his family remains in Ukraine and he says “they’re not going anywhere” – plenty he tells us have already joined the Ukrainian army to repel the Russian invasion.

Kosta and his beloved dog

Kosta believes “Russia could never accept the existence of Ukrainians as an independent nation with its own culture, language and history.

“What we are witnessing is one of the multiple genocides Russia has conducted to destroy my people and all the things we love.”

Kosta says that Russian propaganda “leverages the most basic primal instinct- fear” to draw away from Putin’s own problems domestically. He worries the recent banning of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will leave Russians even more susceptible to Putin’s propaganda.

He is worried about the next time he’ll be able to see his dog back in Ukraine and warns us “if Russia takes over Ukraine they won’t stop…Russia is the Nazi Germany of the 21st century. Most people still don’t realise how terrible the current situation is.

“Ukraine is the last frontier- if it falls, it is only a matter of time until Russian soldiers come knocking at your door.”

‘As a Ukrainian, I feel like I’m born with this feeling of wanting to fight for freedom’

Natalia is a recent graduate who is now helping run the Manchester Ukrainian Society social media. She came to the UK when she was 15 but almost all of her family are still in Ukraine. 

Natalia is a recent graduate helping run the Ukrainian Society’s social media

Most of her family based in Kyiv left to move to the West of the country when the invasion began and are currently staying with other family members. Several members of Natalia’s family have also joined the Ukrainian army and she emphasises that what’s at stake here above all else “is human life”.

Natalia says there’s been an amazing outpouring of support from across the university and wider community with so many UoM societies offering to help out in different ways. 

“It goes much deeper than Ukraine, it’s connected to who we are profoundly as humans, our purpose should be to spread love, spread peace and protect one another. This is it, it’s about being human.”

Natalia says the war is fuelled by “one person’s rage” and “unfortunately their rage doesn’t take into account human life.”

On what it means to her to be Ukrainian she says: “As a Ukrainian, I feel like I’m born with this feeling of wanting to fight for freedom and knowing it doesn’t come easy for us. My grandparents have spoken to me about when they were punished just for speaking Ukrainian.

“So just to have that almost in my blood to fight for it and know the price of freedom. Being Ukrainian is about being fearless and that want and thirst for freedom.”

‘No words can stop him, only actions’

Mary is a first year student at the University of Manchester from Kyiv and came to the UK less than two years ago. She still has lots of friends and family left in Ukraine and remains in close contact with her family there. Most people she knows have left Kyiv and escaped to smaller villages away from the main areas of fighting. Yet she says most still intend to stay in Ukraine. 

Mary is a first year Materials Science student

Ultimately she hopes Ukraine will be able to “gain freedom and peace” and that after all of this Putin will finally be removed. However, she has nothing to say to Putin as she believes “no words can stop him, only actions.”

Mary wants the British government to be doing more to accept Ukrainian refugees including helping facilitate students’ family members in getting visas.

‘I’ve received calls from friends crying on the phone because they were scared’

Anastasiya is a first year student at UoM she’s half Ukrainian, half French and lived in Ukraine for 12 years of her life.

Anastasiya is a first year Russian and Spanish student

She says most of her family is safe now and out of the country but that it took days of negotiating to convince them to leave and cross the border. However, many of her childhood friends are still there, boys, in particular, have been blocked from leaving the country and many girls have refused to leave because they don’t want to leave their families.

She continues to text them as much as she can but it does little to quell her worries. “I don’t know what will happen to them. I don’t know if when I’ll go back I’ll still have my apartment. 

“On the night when it started, I received calls from them crying on the phone because they were scared.

“People just try to be positive, they’re still making plans for when the war is over, so we can see each other again, go on holidays together.”

She hopes the war will end soon and that the sanctions imposed on Russia will force them to end it and hopefully save her home town from destruction. 

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Manchester uni students come together to support Ukraine

• ‘We are brave. We are strong. And no one will take us down.’

• ‘I am incredibly nervous’: The Bristol Uni student who has successfully fled Ukraine with his family