Students share Cornus with Ukrainian refugees: ‘We have to be more careful with parties’

International students have been sharing the Cornus student flat at the Kornoeljestraat with Ukrainian refugees since Monday. ‘We have to be more careful with partying.’

On a sunny afternoon, the windows of the eleven-story flat reflect a bright blue sky, as if to match the colours of the Ukrainian flag that’s hanging from the fourth floor. Below, two cars with Ukrainian licence plates are parked in the shadow. Someone has drawn a heart on the dusty window of one of them.

A tall, bearded man is pushing a pram with a baby towards the entrance, followed by his wife leading a toddler in hand. The family looks tense, but determined. After a few days on the road, they’re now living next door to international students, together with about a dozen other refugees.

Greet

The students, who have been living in Cornus since February, seem to be going on with their normal lives. Most of them park their bikes next to the green donation container and run into their rooms, while some stay on the porch for a smoke break.

Deren Bayar, a law student from Turkey, wanted to greet the people from Ukraine: ‘It’s nice that they are given a shelter here.’ But it wasn’t clear when they’d arrive or how to find them afterwards when a well-wisher asked her to hand over donations yesterday.

Different floors

Spanish students Jasmina Paun and Jan Martinez haven’t met with refugees either. ‘Students and refugees live on different floors, so they are probably staying in their rooms for now’, says Jan, who studies industrial automation at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. ‘But I was told that there are families with many children, so we have to be more careful with music and partying now.’

Jasmina agrees: ‘We party a lot here, so I think it’s going to be more difficult to do that from now on.’ But the international relations student, whose exchange was postponed from autumn to spring because she couldn’t find a room last semester, is fine with the change. ‘I am glad that they have a safe place here; many rooms were empty anyway.’

Language barrier

Meanwhile, a woman in black is heading out of the flat towards the container packed with humanitarian aid. ‘Shampoo?’, she asks in broken English pointing at her head. SSH employee Anne nods in understanding and hands her a box of shampoos and toiletries. Now Elina from Kryvyi Rih has to work out how to distinguish bottles of shampoo, shower gel and hair conditioner, labelled in Dutch and English.

‘Communicating when you don’t know the language is difficult, it’s just a disaster’, she says in Russian. ‘There are Ukrainian students who are fluent in English, but I’m struggling with it. When you get older your memory is not working so well anymore.’

To overcome the language barrier, Elina uses an online translator and hopes to catch up soon. Her friend’s daughter Julia is already making progress in English, however. ‘I had trouble speaking English at school, probably because I wasn’t motivated enough, but now I have no other choice’, says the ninth-grader, who hopes to keep studying in the Netherlands.

Chaotic

But even their short-term future in a foreign country brings a lot of questions. Many refugees don’t really know how to deal with practical issues in the Netherlands, says chemistry student Leonid Nechyporenko from Kyiv, who also lives at the Cornus flat. ‘Most of them are happy to have received shelter, which is very important for now, but the way they are received is very chaotic.’

One refugee couldn’t check in, says Leonid, because she arrived after the housing officer had gone home. ‘She would have had to find a way to another city late in the evening if we hadn’t arranged an overnight stay for her, so she could register the morning after.’

Crucial

The main issue, however, is that people who fled the war in Ukraine don’t know what to do next, says Leonid. ‘They aren’t instructed how to request temporary protection status, which is crucial for them to receive benefits or get a job.’

Leonid, who doesn’t know himself what he will be doing after his exchange semester ends, wants to make an ‘infographic on how to act’ to help all the refugees, regardless of their age and citizenship. ‘When the war started, I wanted to come back to Ukraine to protect my country, but my parents told me that I can already do my best here.’

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