Since Russia’s sudden invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, College has released a statement condemning it and showing solidarity for “the Ukrainian people”. Undeniably the crisis has had a devastating impact on many members of the College community, including students and staff alike. Speaking to some students who have been affected by the war, I gained a striking insight into their personal experiences and concerns at this difficult time.
Trinity News initially reached out to the freshly formed Eastern European Society (EES) for comment. The society’s Chairperson, Ana Stinca, describes how she felt when news of the war in Ukraine broke. “Our society got recognised just a week before the war started; therefore, when I received the dreadful news on Thursday morning I was just shocked and scared”. Despite feeling “lost” at this challenging time, the society jumped into action, demonstrating solidarity for their Ukrainian members and fellow students. “We got involved in as many protests as possible”, Stinca explains, adding that she was “amazed by the turnout” and the overwhelming support and interest in their society’s efforts.
One of their biggest achievements to date is a collection of humanitarian aid to help Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. Stinca expresses her appreciation for the generosity shown during their collection: “I would like to take a moment just to thank every single person that helped and donated in House 6”. She explains that they “originally estimated 7 boxes” would be collected by the society, however, “by the time the drivers came to collect the goods we had 30 full boxes of humanitarian aid”.
In relation to support offered by College at this time, Stinca acknowledges that “we are currently facing a crisis in terms of welfare support on campus and some of the students do not feel comfortable enough to actively seek support”. She shares that so far she has heard from students that “College has offered them support depending on their needs” and hopes that this continues to be prioritised, concluding that when students do reach out for help she “would really count on Trinity to act accordingly”.
“I check the news obsessively, and the worrying interferes with my daily life and studies.”
A member of the Eastern European Society’s Ukrainian subcommittee, Oleg, shares how he has been affected by the war: “As someone born in Ukraine this war has almost broken me. I check the news obsessively, and the worrying interferes with my daily life and studies”. He explains how his family at home are currently coping with the war: “Thankfully my family are safe. About half of my relatives have fled the country. Just today a handful of my cousins and their parents have arrived in Ireland, while my other aunt and her daughter are waiting it out in Hungary”. “My grandfather has volunteered and drives trucks for the military, despite being older than the mobilisation age”. Of his grandfather’s volunteering efforts, Oleg adds, “I really respect this and it gives me courage, and makes me believe in our united, unbreakable spirit”.
He also talks about the support that Trinity has been offering for its Ukrainian students: “I wasn’t sure what to expect from Trinity but I have to say I am very grateful for all the support Trinity has provided”. Oleg shares that “the student support group for Ukrainian students”, in particular, “has been great”. This has offered both “a place to empathise with other Ukrainian students, but also to help our relatives and countrymen back home in a meaningful war”.
Another member of the EES Ukrainian subcommittee, Dmytro, reached out to share his experience since war broke out in his home country. Having lived in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, his whole life, the war has had a large impact on Dmytro and his family. He describes what unfolded on Thursday 24th of February: “I woke up to a shocking message from my mother, saying ‘Dima (my short name), Ukraine has been invaded. I woke up at 4am due to bombings and sirens, woke up the whole family and we left to the countryside’”. Dmytro tells me that his father soon returned to the capital, explaining that “he wanted to protect his family, his people and his country”. He continues, “the following days, my mom wasn’t sleeping well. Obviously, she was stressed; sometimes even in the countryside she would wake up to hearing bombs”. Since then, Dmytro’s family have decided to stay at his grandmother’s house, which now provides refuge for 13 people.
On that very Thursday, Dmytro heard about a protest happening near Leinster House and decided to attend. “I met new friends there, mostly from Ukraine, but also from Russia, Ireland, and others”. “When we started the protest, and then marching, I felt united with my people. It was awesome, knowing that all men and women around me shared the same positions and problems. Then a microphone got into my hands, and I started yelling all the mottos we were following, such as ‘No war in Ukraine’, and ‘We want peace’”. Since then, Dmytro has started helping to organise other protests, being one of the speakers. He states “I have a strong anti-war position; I am very patriotic, and my family, including grandmothers and grandfathers, know about that. They have seen the news and my videos, and this made them very proud and calmed them down to some extent”.
The war has become all-consuming for Dmytro; he explains “I’ve never read so much news in my entire life. Every day, I’ve been reading [news stories] for hours, so that I could be sure of what I’m talking about to friends and on protests. I’ve heard a lot of terrifying ones and obviously great ones too. I am fascinated by the Ghost of Kyiv, a pilot that has taken down at least 20 enemy planes”. Dmytro offers an insight into the multitude of emotions he has felt since the onset of the war. They range from initial worry and anxiety, to pride towards his country and people, to feeling “mad and upset” at Russia’s abrupt invasion and the war crimes Putin has committed. He also expressed anger towards “those occupants who came to my land, and started shooting civilians, raping women and bombing hospitals and kindergartens”.
Dmytro states that he is “very grateful for everything Trinity College has done”. He highlights what he feels has been “most helpful” is how “College, as far as I know, also made the fees for Ukrainians equal to EU fees, not international fees anymore”. He thanks his lecturers for giving him extensions for his assignments. When asked what people in Ireland can do to help, he replies “talk to us, to help us deal with psychological problems. But most importantly, they can donate to our army, our charities, etc. This will have the largest impact”.
Dmytro emphasises that “not all Russians and Belarusians are to blame” and explains how one Russian friend of his is suffering as a result of the war. “She cannot live here for very long with the money she has right now. She only has one option, to leave for Russia, but since the European airspace is closed for them, she’s only able to travel through Turkey, and a ticket will cost more than €1000”.
“It was only possible to get out of Russia via a plane to Turkey, trains to Finland, or buses to the Baltic.”
One student who had been doing Trinity’s gap-year exchange program with Moscow State University, and “was living in Moscow from September until last week”, shares how he “had to leave when the political/economic situation in Russia became too unstable”. Speaking to Trinity News, the student explains how “most of the international students in Moscow (and almost all the Irish) have had to leave”, adding that “it was only possible to get out of Russia via a plane to Turkey, trains to Finland, or buses to the Baltic”. Underlining how College reached out to himself and fellow students partaking in the exchange, he recalls that “Trinity were in pretty close contact with us, we had Zooms every other day once the war began until we were able to get out”.
He describes how in the lead up to the war, “it really had not felt like there was going to be any conflict based on the feelings of students around me (Russian ones and internationals alike), professors, and everything I was reading from western foreign correspondents based in Moscow. Then we were shocked and horrified when the Russian army did invade. Almost all the Russians I knew there felt the same way; they were sickened by their government’s actions and would try to explain to me that it was Putin’s war, and not their own”. Asked if he witnessed the effects of sanctions prior to leaving Russia, he responds, “I first noticed the impact of the sanctions when I started to see Russians queueing up at ATMs (and when ATMs began to run out of cash). I was able to get out before it really became impossible to access money from Europe/the US.”
He “saw a number of protests” and “ had lots of young Russian friends who were risking so much to get out on the streets”. He added that these friends “could easily be expelled or imprisoned for opposing the war, and still felt they had to voice their frustration and anger”.