"Ukraine is the people, we are Ukraine, and we will live on regardless of anything that could happen"Tobia Nava

Vladyslav, who is doing a masters in Law, spent Thursday night (24/02) feeling anger rather than guilt.

“My relatives and my friends had to spend the night waiting for the missiles to hit the city, they had to wait in [bomb] shelters, and they were so cold, they didn’t have any food, they were scared, and I couldn’t do anything for them, couldn’t provide any help to them.”

Early that morning, Russia launched a large-scale military invasion into Ukraine. Andrii, Vladyslav and Stepan are thousands of kilometres from their homes and families.

They are trying to process what’s going on. The past twenty four hours have felt “completely unreal,” Stepan says, “it’s only this morning that I woke up and thought, okay, this is my reality, I need to see what I can do.”

Friends and relatives dominate their thoughts. Andrii, who teaches Ukrainian at Cambridge, tried to get his parents to leave this week but they said they would much rather stay.

“My father has strong beliefs that he would like to live and die in the piece of land where he was born, so he doesn’t want to go anywhere, he doesn’t want to have to go anywhere, I wanted them to leave, but I respect their choice.”


Mountain View

Students rally in support of Ukraine

Since the invasion began, the motions of “normal life” have faded away.

For Andrii, there are no other topics of conversation in his life at the moment. “There is only this, I’ve been talking to my housemates about it constantly for the past few weeks, it is what I talk about.”

Vladyslav added: “It’s been very difficult on an emotional level, it’s almost impossible to comprehend that you’re in the circumstances you’re in, and that you’re not actually with your loved ones, in Ukraine, and that you can’t do anything. Over the past week or so other issues; studying related issues, employment, sport, anything really, have just become secondary when you’re faced with this, this existential threat to your country, your people, your culture, your history, it’s everything.”

Organising and attending the rally on King’s Parade last night (24/02) felt like a moment to resist their feeling of powerlessness. Stepan, a PhD student, said the number of people who showed up “gives us hope…being related to the University of Cambridge, we have the power to influence, because student society here is extremely powerful, and this is what gives us some kind of possibility to do something.”

Vladyslav said yesterday’s rally “got the support of the local Russian community and I think it brought immeasurable help, that way we can actually understand, oh there are conscious people, Russian people, who realise the atrocities being committed, crimes are committed right now by the Russian federation.”

Stepan agrees, “I’m in the MML faculty and my department is one where lots of people from Slavic countries study. Around 75 percent are Russians doing their PhDs [in Slavonic Studies] and I was really happy to see them yesterday [at the rally]. They came. That’s about cooperation, that’s showing we have the same problems, you know, Putin, we have the same enemy.”

Adopting these activist roles feels difficult. Andrii says, “We’re still figuring it out, it feels like a second job and I don’t think any of us have ever been trained to do anything like it. I had very little experience with protests or rallies, so like when I came yesterday, I had no idea what to do.” Stepan feels motivated by it: “the only war we can fight here, so far away, is the media war. That’s why we’re talking to you, that’s what we need to do. Russia attacks with information.”

The three agree that Ukraine feels farther away than it ever has.

Vladyslav: “I was last back in August 2021, we were talking about it last night, when the airport [Boryspil] that I flew from was occupied. Right now, when I close my eyes I can actually reassemble the surroundings, the buildings, the people, but now, it has changed so dramatically.”

Andrii said he broke his glasses at the rally. He shows the broken pair around. “There was a very specific place in Ukraine where I buy them, and I thought to myself, ‘oh, I’ll just go and buy new ones’, and then in that same moment, I just kind of thought, I have no idea when the next time I’ll be able to go to Ukraine is. And when I do, what will it be like?”

They will continue to organise Cambridge based rallies, and possibly a march. The decision to only use their first names, and not their surnames in this article feels surreal: “We don’t want publicity in case our families are targeted [by Russia]. This is so surreal, I’ve never processed these arguments outside of the mock court here for my degree.

“But one of my friends keeps telling me that Ukraine is not just a place. Whilst we love the country, the place where we were brought up, the architecture, the lands, the nature, Ukraine is the people. We are Ukraine, and we will live on regardless of anything that could happen to Ukraine.”

In an email sent to students today (26/2), the University said that as far as they are aware, there are no current students in Ukraine, though there may be one staff member trying to leave.

They said that the counselling service was arranging sessions for those impacted next week, and told students affected to reach out to their college tutors for support.

For upcoming rallies / marches / information, follow the CUUS facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/143800845723079

Donate money to support the Ukrainian military force, and Ukrainian victims of the conflict: https://savelife.in.ua/en/donate/

UK: British-Ukrainian Aid supports victims of the ongoing war, orphaned children, IDPs, the wounded: https://gofundme.com/f/helpukraine-emergency-appeal