“What if I Wake Up and Half of Ukraine Is Gone?” - Ukrainian Students Abroad Speak Out on War

Ukrainian students abroad

“On the evening of February 24th, everything stopped and didn’t matter anymore.” That’s how Oleksandra Tymchyshyna, 19, a Ukrainian student in the United States, begins her story about the war in her homeland, Ukraine.

Oleksandra, who is currently a first-year student at the University of Washington (UW) on premed track with an intended major in biochemistry, says that the day when Ukraine was attacked, newspaper headlines “hit her like an earthquake.”

That day, her father was on a business trip in a city that was bombed. 

“I saw that the city my dad was in on a business trip was bombed. I was honestly so afraid to call him. But I did. He picked up and, in a rushed voice, said, “I know, everything will be fine. I’m trying to go back home.” 

Although she is safe in the United States, her family is still in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. The city has not been bombed so far, but Oleksandra is afraid that soon the next headline would be that Chernivtsi is getting heavily shelled or bombed.

I remember my friend said: I am afraid to go to bed. What if I wake up and the half of Ukraine is gone,” she tells Erudera.

For the next few days, she couldn’t concentrate on anything and fell behind on her medical studies. However, she managed to pull herself back together as the finals were approaching, reminding herself that the reason why she went to the United States was to receive better medical education and achieve the noble goal of being a better doctor in Ukraine.

“The hardest thing was seeing the world still going and your friends laughing. But I said that If I don’t “toughen up” ( as my parents like to say), then everything will be thrown away. The war in Ukraine almost cost me my dream, but I wouldn’t be Ukrainian if I didn’t get back on track and finished the quarter strong.”

Oleksandra Tymchyshyna in USA

Many universities around the world, including US universities and colleges, have acted immediately after Russia launched invasion of Ukraine, offering support to Ukrainian students and staff.

List of Universities Helping Ukrainian Students

Following the events, Oleksandra received several emails from the international student office and other offices at the University of Washington, expressing deep concern or worry about the Ukrainian people and the situation there.

She mentioned that an email from her English professor had impressed her. However, she adds that the university has not made any statements or provided support as much as she would like to see.

“One was actually from my English professor who was really lenient with my deadlines which I greatly appreciated. But as far as I know, UW hasn’t made a public statement or showed support as much as I would appreciate. There are also a lot of resources available for UW students in general that Ukrainian students could use anytime.”

Student Takes Initiative to Support Ukrainian Army & Companies

Ukrainian student Valentyna Yakoban, will never forget the 5 o’clock call on the morning of February 24, when she heard that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

“On the 24th of February, at 5 o’clock in the morning, a call from my boyfriend woke me up. Everything he told me was: “It’s time…the war started.”

Valentyna Yakoban and her boyfriend

Since that day, Valentyna said she could not sleep for days and that her life has changed completely.

Valentyna Yakoban is a student of Economics and Business Administration in Romania but is currently studying International Business Management and Logistics in Antwerp, Belgium, as an exchange student.

In an interview with Erudera, she said that she always dreamed of an Erasmus experience, wishing to learn new skills in another country. This desire encouraged her to even start vlogging, mostly on Instagram, so she could finally get rid of her fear of speaking publicly.

“I had a lot of ideas for my vlog, and I thought that I had plenty of time for this, Valentyna said. “But on that day, you know which, everything just didn’t matter anymore.”

She stressed that her professors have been very understanding and supportive every time, and although it has been mandatory to attend lectures, they understood her if she could not be present.

“I can’t really focus on studying now. They just take it into consideration, without saying anything.”

Valentyna is planning to buy clothes from Ukraine with all the popular phrases about the war so she can make her contribution – helping Ukrainian companies and also sending 20 percent of the money to the Ukrainian army.

She created an online survey with six questions to receive information on what respondents would like to buy from Ukraine, the amount of money they would spend, phrases they would print, and other details.

“For this moment in Ukraine clothes merchandise with its flag/president/phrases became popular, so I thought because many of you support my country as well, maybe you would like to buy some of them too, 20% of gain I will send to the Ukrainian Army, so in that way together we will help the army and Ukrainian companies too!” she says in her call.

Valentyna calls on all Ukrainians to keep standing for their country, join protests, keep sharing information and encourage their family members who remain in Ukraine.

“Every photo, every video, and post about how people are suffering in my country makes me cry all the time. I am proud to be born in Ukraine. I am proud of my nation and our President Zelensky. I will defend my country however I can. The war has to end, not just stop.” 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24 affected Ukrainian students worldwide. A number of educational institutions around the world, including those in the US, Australia, the UK, Canada, and more, have announced support for Ukrainian and Russian students.

Before the war, thousands of students from all over the world chose Ukraine to pursue studies. According to data collected by Erudera, in 2019 alone, 80,470 international students enrolled in higher education studies in Ukraine.

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