The protest was organised by Tahmine and Nigina, both students at EUR from Uzbekistan. “Rotterdam has such a big population, and no one was doing anything. Coming from a post-Soviet country, you can’t help but feel for someone taken over by Russia”, said IBA student Tahmine. Both have family and friends in Ukraine currently and wanted to show solidarity.

protest oekraine Tahmine – alisa mahaletska
Ukrainian students attend a protest at the outbreak of the war. Image credit: Alisa Mahaletska

Optimistic and scared

Walking alone and representing the Ukrainian blue and yellow by wearing an overcoat and festive streamer earrings, Iryna Matsiuk from Ukraine felt overwhelmed with emotion. The first-year Econometrics student walked with her cheeks flushed: “I just can’t believe this is real, Kyiv is my city, the city I grew up in. And my parents are there, my family, all my friends.”

As the chants grew louder she continued: “I got a call from my mom and she’s in a bomb shelter and my friends are trying escape the occupied side of the country. They’re all relatively safe, and our army is coping quite well so we’re optimistic, but of course still very scared.”

Iryna – protest Oekraïne – Alisa Mahaletska
Econometrics student Iryna is optimistic and scared at the same time. Image credit: Alisa Mahaletska

Bystanders and cars passing by showed solidarity by honking and raising their fists in the air. Once the crowd reached the Erasmus bridge, all protesters faced the street and held their signs high while shouting rhythmically ‘save Ukraine’.

Only focus

On the way back, alumni Nadiya Pysana from Ukraine and Shikar Mahmoud from Iraq expressed their reasons for participating. “This is the very least we can do. It’s absolutely terrible what is currently happening against the people of Ukraine, this is something that will haunt me for the next decade”, Shikar expressed painfully.

Nadiia & Shikar – protest Oekraïne – Alisa Mahaletska
Nadia and Shikar. Image credit: Alisa Mahaletska

On the other hand, Nadiya can hardly imagine the war is real. “I still cannot believe that this is happening. It just feels like a movie. To really believe the fact this is happening, you need to accept the fact that anything can happen.”  

Right now, her mind is occupied only by the war “My only focus is Ukraine. I keep thinking about all the time that I came back to Kyiv for the December holidays, and this contrast that I’m seeing now is hard to wrap my head around.” Nadiya passionately expressed that there needs to be more action. “Sanctions are fine, but European countries need to do more, an invasion cannot happen so easily and go unpunished.”  

Trying to cope

Vitalii – protest Oekraïne – Alisa Mahaletska
IBCoM student Vitalii holding a witty protest sign. Image credit: Alisa Mahaletska

Once the protestors circled back to the front of Stadhuis, around 400 people had been picked up along the way, making the chants grow even louder. One of the people leading the crowd was Vitalii Zharinov, from Ukraine. The third-year IBCoM student explained: “I’m trying to cope, this is the biggest issue I’ve had to cope with in my life.” In between his sentences he joined the crowd shouting ‘glory to Ukraine and glory to our heroes’.  

He has to work on his bachelor thesis, but all he can think about is what’s going on at home. “Concentration has been really difficult to deal with. My days are like this: I check WhatsApp for the organisation for the Ukrainians in the Netherlands, I check Telegram, then I go to Instagram to post informational stories, then I go to BBC and Ukrainian news sites. And by the time I’m done there are updates, so I repeat it all.”