Ukrainian student Anna a year after the war started

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A year ago, just after the start of the war in her home country Ukraine, International Communication student Anna was interviewed for She talked about fear, hope, family and the humanitarian initiatives she was involved in. How does she feel now?

How do you feel compared to a year ago?
‘Hard to say. In the beginning I was in total shock when I heard about the bombardments, and the cruelties. Now I feel kind of numb, it seems more commonplace. It’s more part of a terrible new normal far removed from my studies, my volunteer efforts and my debating clubs. It’s part of a duality that has entered my life. Here in the Netherlands all is peaceful, whereas part of my family is living in dangerous circumstances.’

How do you cope with that duality?
‘Since the Russian invasion last year, I went to Ukraine twice: in the summer and for Christmas. When I’m with my family in Ukraine it’ s somehow easier to deal with the war. Here I have to suppress things, that’ s emotionally draining. You always have to explain why you are sad, depressed or furious. In Ukraine you don’t have to explain anything. Everybody is going through the same experiences. But I do appreciate the safety here, though. When I was visiting my family in Kyiv, part of a Russian missile hit a house very near. Some people died. That made me really understand how mortal we are under those bombardments, it’ s easy to lose your life. I’m really happy my mother and my younger brother are living in the Netherlands now. My mother works for a Dutch company. But my grandparents and the rest of my family are still there.’

Are you still involved in aid initiatives for Ukraine?
‘I was involved in humanitarian aid, collecting food and goods. I did that till the end of Summer. Now I have a communication role in Ukrainian student organisations, keeping awareness levels about the war up. I help with printed materials, to organise demonstrations in Groningen. I also participated in the organisation of a demonstration in Amsterdam.’

A year ago Dutch people did a lot to support Ukraine. Is that changing?
‘Most Dutch people still sympathise with Ukraine, no doubt. But now it seems that they feel all is going better for Ukraine and that the war will be over soon. This is dangerous because we still need active help, it is hard to predict when the war will be over. We need humanitarian and military aid as much as we did before, the war is still in a very hot stage. Many Dutch people have mixed feelings about military aid, but if the west doesn’ t send great levels of support to the Ukrainian armed forces, there will no longer a free Ukraine to give humanitarian aid to. I do hope my children will have a country without war, and no more disputes about borders.’

Do you still feel supported by the Hanze community?
‘They still do a lot. We are allowed, for instance, to make use of the Hanze’ s print facilities to make posters and stickers, that certainly helps. But students and staff are less active in aid efforts because the war is not so much in the news anymore. There are two things I hope Hanze will continue to do for us. One is to keep the Russians and Ukrainians separated as much as possible. It’ s very traumatizing to meet Russians in the classroom, even if they sympathize with us. The other thing is financial. Last year tuition fees were reduced for Ukrainians. There are rumours that they will go up again. For me personally that would not be a great problem, but there are Ukrainians, for instance those who lost their businesses, who cannot afford to pay the regular fees. I hope Hanze will continue to allow those students at reduced fees.’

How do you see your future?
‘My future is definitely in Ukraine. I want to help my country. I see a communication role for myself there, maybe in a ministry, for instance the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is still a lot to do to explain about our culture, our identity and our international position. With my international experience, I feel, I could be useful. Maybe I could promote future partnerships.’