Ukrainians in Groningen: ‘This war is surreal’

The lives of Ukrainians in Groningen have been turned upside down by the Russian invasion of their country. How are they coping? ‘It feels like I’m doing nothing, because it doesn’t compare to what they’re doing in Ukraine.’

Anita Gimpelson

Marketing student at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. From Kharkiv, currently in Ukraine with her sister

‘February 24, at five o’clock in the morning, I was woken up by bombings in our apartment. Me and my sister, who is my only family, checked on our friends, family and colleagues and then quickly packed our bags and went to the underground parking of our building, where we spent most of our time hiding with other people. It was surreal to see small kids there playing with each other, not understanding what’s happening.

Anita is making her way to the western border.

The next day, the shootings and bombings started to get more violent and we learned that Russian troops were already in our city. We decided to leave, but first we had to find a man who would accompany us, because the road to the western border is dangerous.

There are bandits on the streets who can just stop your car and steal everything from you and, in general, there are a lot of challenges on the way. Fuel is often sold out and many roads are being destroyed, because of all the tanks, bombings, and car crashes.

A lot of people are telling me to just come back to the Netherlands, but they don’t realise that Ukraine is the largest European country and it will probably take several days to get closer to the western part of it. 

If I could ask for one thing, please pressure the EU to do more and pressure NATO to close the airspace. That’s really the most important thing right now, because we are having a lot of bombings from the air.’

Mira Buist-Zhuk

Academic information specialist at the University Library. From Khmelnytskyi

‘I learned about the war from my sister, who lives in the western part of Ukraine. That was just something unimaginable and unbelievable. My feelings at first were very panicky and extremely worried. I’m less panicked now, but I’m still very scared. It’s still not over. It’s day four.

Every time you receive a message from your family or friends saying “we’re running to a shelter” or “we’re hiding in a shelter” or when you aren’t getting responses from them, because they’re out of reach, you’re just really panicking deep down inside. And time goes by extremely slowly as well. You’re just following all the news you can get a hold of.

They aren’t just staying in shelters, of course. My dad, for example, helps patrol the city. So if he sees anyone who looks suspicious, he would report them to the police, so that they check to see if it is not someone who is just trying to wreak havoc on the streets. 

The vocabulary of my Ukrainian friends became highly militarised. They are using words that refer to all sorts of explosives, rockets and anti-rocket systems to describe what’s going on over there. It’s now a part of my everyday vocabulary, too, which was just unthinkable before.

I know that some people doubt if they should text a Ukrainian friend or colleague, and my advice would be yes, please. People really appreciate it, because it shows us that we’re not alone. We’re being supported. The whole world is on our side.’ 

Viktoriia Starokozhko

Clinical expert at UMCG. From Kharkiv

‘The first day of war was a very emotional day. It’s very scary and I feel helpless to be so far away from my family and friends. These days I stay up until late and then wake up early just to check whether they are okay. 

Even before the war, I was begging my parents to leave Kharkiv and go to the western border, so they will be able to come here. But they said: “No, we want to stay because this is our home.” 

The least that I can do is to go to the protests. Just to shout out that we really need support. And it’s amazing that all my international colleagues and friends came to the protest, too. There’s this spirit in Ukraine that we’ll get through this, but when you see the international support, then you know that we’ll definitely win.’

Evgen Troshyn

Game design student at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. From Odesa

Evgen Troshyn

‘I can’t go back home now and my family’s against it, too. So all I can do is show my support at the protest. I’m also very grateful to everyone who shows up. It’s important to show that a lot of people in all countries, including Russia, come out against this. 

Support helps a lot. My Dutch friends here invited my family to stay in their house, though my family has refused at this point. What they do is volunteer in logistics provisions and, if there is a need, my father and brother-in-law will stay to protect the country, even though they have no military training.’

Veronika Tajgler

Industrial engineering and management student. From a small city in western Ukraine 

‘Back in Ukraine, I have friends, young guys my age, who signed up for territory protection. Even though they are only helping as citizens because there’s a lot of people with military experience, I’m just really proud of our people. I have a feeling that the situation has united us a lot. 

We cannot be in Ukraine right now to fight or volunteer, so we’re trying to reach out to as many people as possible so we can help from the outside. It’s also about helping by sending all the necessary stuff – from helmets to blankets, medication to food. We are actually sending six vans with humanitarian aid from Groningen to Ukraine. 

Before this protest, I didn’t even know that there are so many Ukrainians in Groningen. Volunteering actually helps me, because I feel that I’m doing something that can affect what is happening in my country. Otherwise, I almost don’t sleep, because I’m constantly checking the news.’

Maria Badziukh

Game design student at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and one of the organisers of the protest at the Grote Markt on Sunday that attracted around 2,000 people. From Kyiv 

Maria Badziukh (with flower wreath)

‘I don’t think we can do enough. Even though I’ve been organising the protest and finding people in different countries who may be able to take Ukrainians in, it feels like I’m doing nothing, because it doesn’t compare to what they’re doing in Ukraine. Actually fighting for their life. 

It feels like people here are living in a different reality. Many can go on with their daily life after this protest like nothing happened. I can’t, because I’m Ukrainian. So now every single day, every hour of the day, what I’m thinking about is Ukraine.  

I think what people need to do is to not just be done with it after this protest. We need you to keep sharing information, asking Ukrainians how they can help. The important thing is to listen to the Ukrainians right now.’


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