The Glasgow Guardian talks to Ukrainian students on what it has been like studying in Glasgow as Russia invaded their homeland, and the support they have received from the University.
Daria Pavlenko was an Erasmus student at Glasgow last semester and had recently come back on a trip to visit friends. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine coincided with her trip, leaving her stuck in Glasgow since, living with her boyfriend. While she remains in safety here, her parents fled from eastern Ukraine to the west of the country. With the conflict continuing to escalate, Daria is becoming increasingly worried about her family’s safety as long as they remain in the country.
“The first couple of days were the most difficult for me,” Daria told The Glasgow Guardian. “I was just confused; I couldn’t find myself, I was completely lost, I cried every ten minutes. My friends here really took care of me. Now, I’m getting better and trying not to let it influence my personal life that much.“ Daria also spoke of the “guilt” she felt as a Ukrainian for being in Glasgow whilst her family and friends were living in a war zone, doing everything they can to support the national effort on the ground. “But at least my family knows I’m safe and that keeps them going,” she said.
The Glasgow Guardian spoke to another Ukrainian exchange student in Glasgow this semester, Victoria Lobas. She had previously booked a ticket home at the end of March, but has been forced to change her plans. When asked how it feels to be in Glasgow as war unfolds at home, Victoria described the strangeness of what seems like two worlds coexisting at once, as people in Scotland go about their ordinary lives. “Here people are so happy, and western Ukraine is also now trying to live normally. To me, though, it really helps to see normal life continue.”
For Victoria, the politics of the war remains close to home. Her neighbour in her Glasgow accommodation is a Russian student, and the two share a seminar together on the international relations course they both study, a class which makes it “obvious we’ve both learned a totally different history”, according to Victoria. Even before the war started, Victoria made it clear there would be no discussion of politics. “She asked me before the war how life is in Ukraine, as she has learned about the Ukrainian crisis. I said: There is no Ukrainian crisis. We’re still neighbours and we can talk about the weather, food, Glasgow…but we’re faced with some disagreements [regarding politics]. She’ll never understand me, my family or my country.” Being in the international environment of Glasgow, Victoria has seen the Russian experience of the war. She told The Glasgow Guardian that her Russian flatmate has tried to talk to her family in Russia about how the Ukraine conflict is being shown in Western media, only to be met with hostility.
Both students received a welfare phone call from student support advisors within a few days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and since then regular emails to check up on their mental health and whether they need anything the University can provide them with. Daria told The Glasgow Guardian: “The University may be the most helpful institution here in the UK, for me now at least.” International student support officers have also been helping with visa problems, and are currently discussing the possibility of having the study exchange extended, or making those affected permanent Glasgow students, depending on how the situation in Ukraine develops. Financially, although Ukrainian students must apply for the hardship fund through the same process as other students, Daria described how she had received a “quick response”, and understood it was processed faster than normal.
Asked what fellow University of Glasgow students can do to help, Victoria and Daria both expressed their gratitude for the large amount of verbal support shown. On a more practical level, students with extra space can consider the UK government’s scheme to take in a Ukrainian refugee, or support cafes in Glasgow which are donating profits to Ukraine or cooking the national cuisine. On the discussions of Ukraine and Russia in Glasgow, Victoria noted: “It really bothers me when people say conflict, and not war.”
In a statement given to The Glasgow Guardian on how the student community can support them, the UofG Ukrainian Society suggested fundraising initiatives being run by other student societies to raise money for Ukraine such as quizzes and socials, such as a vodka-tasting session put on by the Russian-speaking society on 22 March.
The Ukrainian society continued: “As a community, we are trying to keep people informed on all the events happening to support Ukraine and refugees, such as engaging more volunteers to help with sorting and packing humanitarian aid. We appreciate a lot has already been done by the University, students and Scottish people in general.
“We hope that this war will end soon but we still believe in humanity which is why we are trying to gather and engage more and more people of different nationalities to deal with this together”.
The Queen Margaret Union (QMU) became a hub for donations for Ukraine, collecting canned foods, sanitary products and clothing. QMU President Susanna Zarli described the response as “overwhelming”. The QMU will continue to run as a point for students who want to donate on Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons. It also emphasises the availability of its facilities to students affected by the war to gather.
In a statement given to The Glasgow Guardian, the QMU said: “We at QMU continue to stand loudly in solidarity with Ukraine and all who have been impacted by the current crisis, and we encourage anyone who’s struggling because of the situation to get in touch with our Executive for advice and mental health support resources.”
University Principal Anton Muscatelli has described the war in a statement sent out to all students and staff as “unlawful and deplorable”. Among other measures, partnerships with Russian and Belarussian academic institutions have been cut, although Muscatelli has equally emphasised intolerance of harassment of Russian students in Glasgow. Despite the strong statements made in favour of Ukraine, sections of campus such as Glasgow University Arms Divestment are critical of the University, since arms companies which the University invests in have seen their profits grow since the start of the war.