Danny Mykhaylyuk

Danny Mykhaylyuk talks to me from an Austrian hotel housing Ukrainian refugees. A shy girl waves to me and a group of elderly women excitedly bid me “Hello!” as we begin our conversation – the camaraderie he has with the people he’s helping is clear.

Danny is a second-year Ukrainian student at St Catharine’s College studying Chinese. He moved to the UK aged 14, attending Eton College before Cambridge. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th February, the 20 year-old has not stopped in his efforts to help his country while studying.

From raising roughly £1,500 through a social fundraiser at a vegan cafe, sending over £6,000 worth of medical supplies and military equipment to the frontline, speaking at vigils on King’s Parade, and teaching Chinese to Ukrainian children as part of a project to distract children from war, Danny’s action seems to be the only source of stability in his life right now.

It’s hard to comprehend how he managed to do all this from Cambridge in such fraught circumstances. He explains that he’d attend his lessons in the morning, spend the afternoon receiving orders, go to the shop to pick them up, then study in the evening while keeping an eye on the news. Most missiles and rockets would hit at night.

“Waking up not knowing if your house is still standing is the most terrifying thing in the world”, he says. “The first thing is fight or flight: you have to take care of your immediate family, make sure they’re safe. I was running on virtually no sleep.”

Danny’s priorities have changed rapidly. “Initially I wanted to live a normal life, have a family, have a nice career. Now I want to rebuild my country.”

When we spoke two weeks ago (8/4), more reports of the horrific atrocities committed by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian civilians were emerging. Later that evening, 57 more civilians would die in the bombing of Kramatorsk station. I ask what keeps him going in the face of such news. He pauses. The alternative of not doing anything confounds him. “If I’m not doing this, then what am I doing?...If I can save the lives of people my age, there’s nothing better I can do.”

Despite Danny’s tireless efforts, he continues to struggle with the guilt of not going to fight as some of his peers have.

A day in the life

"Wake up, update Kyiv news and prepare for lessons. Attend lessons in the morning (somewhat sporadically), and simultaneously make/receive calls from friends and family members, make sure home isn’t obliterated. Visit Nick at the Army surplus shop, assess inventory, call Ukrainian suppliers, take orders. Load van with goods, or return to College, have lunch. Go to a demonstration on King’s Parade, call home. Have dinner, attempt work, whilst simultaneously updating rocket alerts. More news, fundraising admin and planning."

“I’m 20, able-bodied, and it’s what you do; you go and defend your country. Then I realised a) I’m untrained and b) If I get shot on the second day I’m not going to be of any use.”

The Ukrainian army has, at times, come under criticism from Western media, and successful fundraisers have focused on medical supplies and help for Ukrainian civilians rather than the military. But Danny disagrees. “The fighting that happens on the front line dictates what’s going to happen in the end. It’s the bottom line.”

His thoughts on the Russian army are clear. “We’re not dealing with rational warfare between armies. We’re dealing with animals who are killing children. It’s beyond logical, it’s beyond reason, and it’s very reminiscent of what the Nazis were doing.”

As those fleeing Ukraine nears five million, Danny has turned his focus to finding safe housing for refugee families. He reminds those in the UK looking to house Ukrainian refugees under the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme that “these are people who have just come back from war” and that “perfect Ukrainians don’t exist.”

His list of touching stories is endless. From his musically gifted friend who learnt the Ukrainian national anthem, to his college wife who often drove him to the shop to pick up supplies, and to the Ukrainian child who asked if he’d continue teaching him Chinese after the war ended.

Danny jokes that teaching the Ukrainian kids was more nerve-wracking than his Cambridge interview, because he felt he had “a genuine responsibility for these kids.” But he says his most terrifying moment came when he had to kit out a Ukrainian lorry driver who was taking back the supplies and then joining the front lines to fight. Danny felt “his life was in some ways in my hands.”

“Luckily, I got a video a week later of the same order I’d bought. Some Ukrainian guys were shooting at it with a kalashnikov and it wasn’t going through. This is bizarre – I’m more excited by body armour not getting pierced than by a round of four jägerbombs at Revs.” He laughs. “The priorities have changed massively.”

After being called away twice, he emphasises his desire to continue his efforts alongside his degree at Cambridge for the foreseeable future, and tells me of his pride for his country as well as his grief.

“I’m so immensely proud of what’s going on. I’m horrified and I’m hurt, but what keeps me going is the guys who put everything on the line for their country, and the women and the kids they’re saving daily.

“The whole of Ukraine hangs on to this notion that we will win, we will prevail. And we will rebuild what we’ve lost.”

Donate to Danny’s Paypal now: danmiha@icloud.com. All money donated will be sent to Ukrainians in Poland.