“University Seems Like the Only Reliable Thing in My Life” - Ukrainian Studentin France Confesses How War in Homeland Affected Her

Paris, France

The war in Ukraine that started on February 24, has been a dark period for all Ukrainians, many of whom found comfort and safety in other countries.

Some Ukrainians, including students, were already outside their country during Russia’s full-scale invasion, however, they have also been subject to significant challenges.

In an interview with Erudera, Ukrainian Sofiia Bondar, 20, an Erasmus student at Université Paris-Est Créteil, said that in Bucha, Kyiv region, the city where she used to live, a huge massacre took place. Her flat was robbed and all damaged. Now she feels like she has nowhere to return.

“There is a flat which I call home as well as the city, but in fact, I have a feeling that I have nowhere to return. I’m afraid to go there, and my parents don’t want to. Partially, this is why I’m trying to find possibilities to stay in France and continue studying here just not to return to Ukraine and see all the ruins and graves,” Sofiia begins her story.  

The situation of her family in Ukraine worries her a lot as they refuse to leave the country and move somewhere abroad. What makes her story even more painful is that some relatives remained in Mariupol, which city is now totally destroyed. Sofiia prays for them to be alive.

“We lost connection with them. We pray for them to be alive,” she says.

Her family was in Bucha when Russians started bombing the airport in Hostomel, just a few kilometers away. Luckily, they managed to leave town and move to Lviv, where Sofiia’s grandparents live. Her uncle is now in Kyiv but further from the battlefield.

“I never saw my mom and dad so shocked and scared. Thank God they managed to leave.”

Sofiia can’t describe how things took such a turn. To be able to live in France was a dream that came true for her, but now she just wants to be with her family.

“I was supposed to live my dream life here. Now I feel like I’m stuck and really have a desire to go to western Ukraine just to see my family. Never ever thought that I would miss them so much and my sweet cat as well.”

The war had a huge impact on her studies. In the first weeks, she has been struggling with focus but had to get herself up due to looming exams. Reflecting on that now, Sofiia says that studies have distracted her from constantly checking the news and helped to avoid negative thinking.  

“University seems like the one stable and reliable thing in my life,” she states.

She told Erudera that she had received a lot of support from her host university in France, Université Paris-Est Créteil. The international office has extended her stay at the university for the summer and she is discussing with her home university, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, about an extension for the autumn semester.

“My host university is very supportive. Our coordinator here tries his best to do everything he can to help me in any situation, even if it isn’t connected to the university.”

In France, she has received financial support from a non-governmental organization, but currently, she isn’t receiving any help because the rules have changed, and she isn’t eligible for aid as she crossed the border before the war in Ukraine began.

Another thing that Sofiia mentioned during the interview is that in the first weeks of the war, she felt guilty for being in a safe place, for being happy, while her family and friends had their lives at risk. Every time she went out with her classmates, she thought she had no right to be happy.

“But from time to time while dancing, I had the images in my head of people suffering from war. And I was there on the dance floor. My best friend experienced the first days of occupation before having been evacuated. I felt like I could not share my life with her because it sounded so minuscule and miserable comparing what she had in Bucha. I felt like I was losing her. My only best friend.”

For now, Sofiia is searching for any internships in Paris, although she says it is harder than expected. She states that she is now getting used to living in the permanent state of war, calling her family and friends, and checking all the news.

Despite how bad the war is and how much she and all Ukrainians have lost from this war, Sofiia says she already has a stronger bond with her family, with whom she wasn’t very attached before the war.

Now we call each other every day. I think we are closer than ever. Also, some of my distant relatives reached me. I was very surprised and happy because of that. It seems like people are very supportive. Even a friend with whom we met once invited me to visit her. I feel so grateful to everyone.”

Other Ukrainian students studying in different corners of the world also spoke to us, revealing how the war in their homeland had affected them.

Oleksandra Tymchyshyna, 19, a Ukrainian student at the University of Washington (UW), said that newspaper headlines about the war in Ukraine “hit her like an earthquake.” For the next several days, she couldn’t concentrate on anything.

“The war in Ukraine almost cost me my dream, but I wouldn’t be Ukrainian if I didn’t get back on track and finish the quarter strong,” Oleksandra said.

List of Universities Helping Ukrainian Students

Valentyna Yakoban studying International Business Management and Logistics in Antwerp, Belgium told Erudera that she could not sleep for days, she couldn’t focus on studying, and that her life had changed completely due to the war.

Meanwhile, Olha Zhuk, a Ukrainian student at the Kent State University (KSU) in the United States, also said that the war has put her life on pause. However, she has decided to turn her pain into strength, launching the “YouForUkraine,” project, where people can buy T-shirts, tote bags, and other things in support of Ukraine. The earnings will go to the Ukrainian Army. 

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