Air raid sirens welcomed residents returning home to their families for Christmas celebrations amidst Russians bombings that reneged on the promised ceasefire. As we approach the one-year anniversary of a conflict that has shaken the world to its core and put military alliances to the test, support for Ukraine’s former comedian-turned-Time’s Person of the Year is unyielding. Celebrating Christmas on 25 December for the first time is one of the few, if milder, changes many Ukrainians have made to their traditions in a bid to distance themselves from their similarities with Russia.
Forecasts predict the fighting will drag on for at least another Christmas, but President Zelensky is ensuring spirits stay high. Daryna Varenyk, a 20-year-old Ukrainian refugee in London and representative of the Ukrainian Students’ League, is overcome with emotion when talking to us about the video message Zelensky delivered on New Year’s Eve: “If you didn’t cry during his speech you weren’t a Ukrainian.” That must make all of us Ukrainians then.
If you didn’t cry during his speech you weren’t a Ukrainian.
– Daryna Varenyk
Daryna is one of the many natives who returned to Ukraine to celebrate the winter holidays with her family. President Putin had ordered a 36-hour ceasefire for the duration of Orthodox Christmas, celebrated on January 6 and 7. However, Ukraine and its western allies widely regarded this as a move to halt Ukrainian forces in eastern Donbas. President Zelensky dismissed the announcement, and his presidential advisor tweeted that Russia should “keep hypocrisy to themselves”. Moreover, Daryna tells The Boar that: “The people of Ukraine didn’t believe the Russians.” It thus came as no surprise when the Eastern Orthodox of Bakhmut celebrated Christmas in bomb shelters as missiles rained down upon the city.
Daryna tells us about another change Ukrainians have had to adapt to: the replacement of Soviet street names with Ukrainian ones in an effort to ‘de-Putinize’ the country. Nearly 100 streets have been renamed in Kyiv. Piterska Street, named after the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, is now called Londonska Street, in recognition of the £2.3 billion of aid the UK sent Ukraine in 2022. This street hosts the Taras Shevchenko National University’s College of Finance and Law. Daryna, currently in her second year, has only been for two weeks, a consequence of Covid-era online learning and the invasion. 50% of its campus was affected by bombings. She notes: “The war is not done; we’re not done fighting.” Ukrainians have found unity in their collective sacrifice.
Needless to say, heavy fighting, shelling, and airstrikes across Ukraine have had devastating consequences for ordinary people. As a result, people have been forced to abandon their jobs, possessions, and loved ones. Overwhelmed families, many of them travelling on foot, have been seeking refugee status at European countries’ borders, with a staggering six million people fleeing the country in recent weeks. Therefore, a rise in anxiety and depression has steadily impacted Ukrainians, and Daryna herself first experienced this when the war began. She remarks: “On the 24th of February 2022, at 5 am I heard the actual bombings, an hour after I woke up. My mother rushed to my room saying the war began.”
This was instantly a problem in hospitals. A Cambridge University study finds that the mental health of Ukrainians has diminished since the war began. Through their online questionnaire, they discovered that hospital admissions fell by 23.5% from January 2022 to April 2022. The real problems caused by the war were mostly experienced by young men, as new legislation was introduced declaring that all men between the ages of 18-60 were eligible for conscription.
One of Daryna’s classmates was involved, which led her to tell us a story about the military: “In Russian invaded areas of Ukraine, they had blocked all phone channels, they even started adding Russian supermarkets. My classmate’s father who was in the war went missing, and after a long period of no communication they discovered that he had passed away.” The war affects everyone; reports from the United Nations published on December 19 (before Putin’s New Year strikes) state that there are approximately 17.7 million people in need of some form of assistance in Ukraine: 40.4% of the total population. The World Economic Forum claims that, among those 17.7 million people, 10 million have reported struggling with anxiety, depression, acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance abuse (22.8% of the total population).
Yet, Daryna’s perspective on the war is not entirely negative, as she mentions that Ukranian psychologists have set up support systems for those affected by the war. She stresses: “Many initiatives have been created by psychologists and therapists to provide free help and consultation to talk about your problems and life, as well as to simply share their experience. I myself had a great experience when I was abroad in December, where I had personal loneliness, was unsure of what would happen in the future, and just needed to try to get used to [the situation]; at one of the organizations, the women helped me deal with the sadness of being away from my loved ones, and it really helped me feel not alone.”
The University of Warwick released a statement “pledging their solidarity with Ukraine and announcing a review of their relationship with Russian state institutions” on 28 February 2022. We spoke to Eldar Agayev, the President of Warwick Ukrainian Society and Kyiv native, to gauge what impact the support mechanisms in place have had on student wellbeing.
The university took measures to accommodate students affected by the invasion and facilitate their studies abroad. According to Eldar, students whose families were affected by the war received financial assistance and well-being support, and mitigating circumstances were offered to students impacted by the war. However, this is not enough according to him.
Eldar says: “As a president of the Ukrainian Society, I ask for clear processes for accessing financial support and greater support for Ukrainians who have been displaced as a result of the invasion.”
Students whose families were affected by the war received financial assistance and well-being support, and mitigating circumstances were offered to students impacted by the war.
While not yet an official society (having applied for membership last year), they have amassed a considerable membership estimated at around 70 active members, and have conducted numerous speaker and social events
“We have organized social events to raise funds for Ukraine, signed a memorandum of cooperation with other Ukrainian Societies, the Ukrainian Student Union, and the Embassy of Ukraine in the UK, and even hosted an academic event featuring a Ukrainian speaker from Bloomberg.”
To show your support you can keep up with events at @warwick.ukraine on Instagram and donate to the Ukrainian Students’ League. In Eldar’s words: “Together, we can bring Ukraine one step closer to victory.”