What is it like for Ukrainian students to have to live through a war? What does it mean to them and to their friends and family? Vitalii Zharinov studies Communications and Media at EUR and is from Kyiv. “I’ve never felt as connected to Ukraine as I do now.”
For 19-year-old Communications and Media student Vitalii Zharinov, it feels unreal that a war is being waged in the country he loves so much – his country. “It feels as though many things can still be undone, but in reality, the lives of all Ukrainians have changed for ever.” In the long term, he wishes to return, but he is not yet sure how this is supposed to happen. Everything is uncertain at present.
At the moment, all his days are alike. He gets up, watches the news and reads the messages about the war sent by his friends and family. He is not really getting around to studying much.
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One thing he does do is join protest rallies. He uses Instagram to get as many people as possible involved in the rallies.
He feels supported by the rallies. “I’ve never felt as connected to Ukraine as I do now. Ukrainians will never give up and will never surrender to a dictator.”
He goes on to say that the rallies are effective: “In this way we can put pressure on governments to really act. Also, I believe that if we stay silent now, we are agreeing to the war. Furthermore, there are so many people hiding in bomb shelters right now who can draw hope from the fact that we are resisting.”
Vitalii grew up in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, but his family originally hails from western Ukraine, near Lviv. This part of the country has so far largely been spared attacks. His parents spent days hiding in their small dacha (summer house), located some sixty kilometres from Kyiv.
“It wasn’t very safe for my parents to leave the village,” he explains. “Together with the other inhabitants of the village they created nets for the Ukrainian army. Even though the village is quite far from the main road or any strategic point, you never know what the Russian army will do. Now they’ve been able to flee to Lviv.”
Although many people have voiced their sympathy with his situation, he has received a few blunt reactions. For instance, a few Dutch students asked him why his parents hadn’t fled to Russia, which pained him. “It showed that they didn’t even know that the country that had invaded Ukraine was Russia. Normally, I’m usually quiet and avoid confrontations, but this made me very angry. As a matter of fact, not many Dutch students have told me they sympathised.”
Has the war changed his opinion on Russian people? “Yes, it has a little. Of course, the majority of Russians can’t do much about what Putin is doing, but they could speak out against the aggression and their government. As I said before: if you don’t say anything, you’re agreeing. That’s what it’s like with Russians, as well. A lot of Russians are saying they don’t support Putin. But if they don’t actively distance themselves from Putin, they are supporting the regime and the war.”