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Nouse in Conversation with Ukrainian university’s student council, after fleeing city under attack

Alanah Hammond discusses international solidarity and Ukraine’s Eurovision win with Kharkiv students

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Image Credit: Vitalina Shevchenko

Last week, Nouse interviewed the student council of Kharkiv National University, which is one of the oldest universities in Ukraine. The Head of the Student Council, Vitalina Shevchenko, explained how all students in the council, and the University as a whole, have had to flee and leave Kharkiv because it is “extremely dangerous” to be there. Many of the students have escaped to Western Ukraine but Vitalina explained how “the journey itself is not really secure”.

Nouse asked what the current situation is like after the students left Kharkiv. Valentyna Koshechka, Secretary of the student council, explained her personal experience of fleeing. She said it is “the most painful thing” waking up to the news and seeing that something has happened in Ukraine, where her parents remain, knowing that she cannot do anything.

Vitalina explained the evacuation process whereby many students left the city in the first few days of the full scale invasion. It was a time of great uncertainty since “nowhere was safe”, yet Vitalina remained hopeful, explaining how “when you are with your family and not alone you feel better”. It took five days for Vitalina to flee from Kharkiv to Western Ukraine. With help along the way, Vitalina described how “in that situation, in the full scale invasion, everyone was like family”. Vitalina was fleeing with three other cars, and described the sense of solidarity amongst all who had to flee: “everyone was helping everyone”.

Mykyta Kucherov, Deputy Head of media blog UNK, told Nouse his similar experience in fleeing whereby he will “never forget that week in Kharkiv”. Mykyta recalled the panic of the first week: “Every person had to go to the shops but at the same time there were a lot of explosions and bombs. It was really terrible. It was really memorable”. He also described how it was a “really hard decision to go to another city” and didn’t know what he needed to bring, only packing the essentials of basic clothes, documents, food and water. Ultimately there was a unifying sense that “[everyone] didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have any plans for the future”.

Mykyta praised the assistance he received when he was fleeing: “A lot of people helped us... It was really emotional when strangers were really kind”. He added, “we are really grateful to any volunteers who helped us”.

Vitalina added that Ukraine has implemented a system whereby there is an opportunity to declare that you are an “internally displaced person”, allowing you to receive some assistance from the Ukrainian government.

Nouse then asked the student council whether they think that the international community has done enough. Vitalina agreed it has, stating, the “international community is with us. We are really grateful”. Valentyna added: “Everyone is trying to help us... you see the little [Ukrainian] flag on the street, the little sticker, the little pin on a bag, [and] it all just helps because you know that people support us”.

A huge signifier of such international support has to be Ukraine’s Eurovision win. The public votes gave Ukraine a combined total of 631 to the United Kingdom’s 466. Nouse asked whether the student council had watched the show, and each zoom face lit up with a big smile, with Vitalina enthusiastically agreeing. Valentyna explained how she had a lot of Ukrainians in her dormitory and when they won, “the whole dormitory was screaming”.

Yelyzaveta Bikulova, Deputy head of the Student Council, shared a similar experience whereby she explained, “all my friends watched it together and sent messages to everyone”. However, since everyone was watching it in different countries, Yelyzaveta explained how they had to try and not spoil it for each other since there were delays between countries.

Vitalina described how Eurovision meant so much more than winning a singing contest: “This victory was extremely important to us. Everyone is getting tired of the war, both Ukrainians and our international community”. The Head of the council remained optimistic, adding “the sign of how many people voted for us and our country, is the solidarity thing. They are with us, which is really important for us and for our country”. Vitalina finally remarked how the Eurovision win “cheered up every Ukrainian”.

As a student paper, connecting with other students, Nouse asked how the council’s learning and management has been adapted to their current situation. Vitalina explained how before the full scale invasion there were five departments within the council, including sectors in education, charity and entertainment. However, with the war, “the agenda on meetings has changed dramatically”. Such changes included the student council arranging food deliveries, since it was extremely unsafe to go to the shops, but they also set up a network to help connect lost students. In this, the council were able to unite students with friends and family if they lost contact due to the war. The council also provided free accommodation to students who were fleeing from Kharkiv and actively spread the importance of Ukrainian culture.

The students, despite the war, are still determined to finish their studies and rebuild Ukraine. Mykyta explained how he was studying programming and wanted to progress in management in IT. Oleksandr Hladkyi, also a Deputy head of the Student Council, explained how he was in his final year of studying biotechnologies. In his final year he will “think about the future”, but he does know that he wants to be a biotechnologist in Ukraine. This is because of the fact that most of their factories have been “damaged by rockets” and so a lot of repairs will be needed. Oleksandr inspiringly stated: “I am going to rebuild Ukraine and develop our science in our country”. He added that he “hoped to create some better technology” and maybe one day “own a business in his own country”.

Vitalina concluded by explaining how there is a huge desire to return home to Ukraine, when it is safe. She told Nouse: “I think that everyone here is sure that we will return back to Ukraine. Right now, it is dangerous to be in Ukraine and Kharkiv; however, when everything finishes, when we hear that we won, we will come back and contribute to the development, to the rebuilding of our country. A new modern Ukraine”.

Such words are truly inspiring and all of Nouse look forward to when the student council of Kharkiv, and any other displaced Ukrainians, are reunited after the war is over. Valentyna explained how she has already made a playlist for when all the council reunite, and we can only hope that they all get to hear it soon.

To keep updated on the journey of the student council of Kharkiv National University, you can follow their Instagram @Karazina_studrada. Here you can find the most necessary information regarding students, the educational process, as well as invitations to various events. You can also follow their UNK blog on Instagram, @unk.blog, which works to entertain students. On this you can see the most memorable moments from events and everyday life of students studying at Kharkiv.

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