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From Kyiv to Amsterdam: Ukrainian students on the run

15 March 2022
It's a question that’s on everyone’s mind within the academic walls: what is the best way to help the Ukrainian people? Kilian Wawoe, VU researcher and Human Resources Management lecturer, didn't have to think long: drive to Poland, pick up as many students as possible and bring them back safe to Amsterdam.

The idea didn't come out of the blue. Wawoe is a visiting professor at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and has gained a lot of experience and knowledge about education in Ukraine. He was able to get away just before the war started and offered Ukrainian students through a chat group to join him to the Netherlands. At the solidarity meeting for Ukraine on Wednesday March 9th, he explained to a packed room how he drove to Poland to pick them up last Sunday. Within 24 hours they arrived in Amsterdam on time. "I am not sharing this story to arouse sympathy. I share this story to tell what you can do to help. Accept these students into our community."  

Furthermore, he says, it is essential that all Dutch universities provide Ukrainian students with housing and online courses that match their studies. "And another thing”, Wawoe said. “Ukrainian academics were already earning little money for teaching. Now that their universities have been closed or destroyed, they are left with nothing. My call to all VU researchers is to translate your best scientific article into Ukrainian or Russian and make it available online for free for their studies.”

Olha Shevchenko, one of the ten students that Wawoe brought from Poland, said afterwards she was very relieved to have left the war zone on time. At the same time, she also feels very guilty. Guilty that she was lucky enough to escape, while many family members and friends are still stuck in Ukraine. Shevchenko: "I have been thinking about the message from a friend of mine lately. Two days ago she sent me an app telling me that her boyfriend had died on the battlefield as a soldier. Then you begin to wonder. How come I have so many privileges to have found a safe haven here  and he didn't?" 

She takes a sip of her Coke and then looks around her with a small smile. "In any case, it's great to see that Europe is ready to take us in as refugees. It would be even nicer if they could give our aid organizations food and ammunition, so that those who are left behind can still defend themselves at least."  

Meanwhile, several visitors of the meeting asked the Ukrainian speakers the same question over and over again: can peace talks still stop the war? Igor Kostiuk, VU PhD in Physics, shakes his head and sighs. "Eastern European history shows that wars rarely stop because of peace talks alone. Only the strongest prevails. Talking about peace without having leverage is seen as a sign of weakness by figures like Putin." 

Kostiuk continued: "I have little hope that ordinary Russians themselves will overthrow Putin. But Dutch people can do the following in the meantime: Visit the website of Foundation Ukrainians in the Netherlands to check how you can help Ukraine and inform yourself about our country. Read the book The Gates of Europe: a history of Ukraine by author Serhii Plokhy and help us convince the Dutch government to provide air support for Ukraine as soon as possible."