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‘I hope the bombs don’t fall where my family are’

Foto: manhhai via flickr

Ukrainian exchange student Yurii Dobrytsia follows the news about the war in his country every day for around sixteen hours – and often deep into the night. He is studying in the Netherlands for one semester, taking the International Entrepreneurship minor at Avans in Breda. “I’m trying to focus on my studies but it isn’t easy.”

Yurii comes from Kharkiv, a large city in the east of Ukraine, close to the border with Russia. His family has fled the city but many of his friends are still there. “They can’t get away because of the intense artillery fire,” Yurii says. “It’s too dangerous to drive a car.”

He keeps in touch with friends and acquaintances via social media and messaging apps. “Most of them still have internet access, even though the Russians are doing everything they can to destroy the telecommunication systems. Some regions can no longer be reached.” He hears from others how the people who have no internet are getting on.

Middle of the night
His days consist mainly of keeping up with the news and maintaining contact with his family and friends in Ukraine. “Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to see if there’s any news. I can’t help it, even though I’m really tired. As well as the shelling there are bombardments from ships and planes, with heavy bombs. Some are the size of a car. I just hope they don’t fall where my family and friends are.”

Social media are his main window on the events in his country. Friends who are still in cities that are under fire share videos. He hears people screaming, sees bodies that have been ripped apart. “Those things are happening on streets where I used to hang out with my friends.”

He is trying to help them from the Netherlands, by collecting money for example. “It’s safe here but I can’t do much more than that. I feel helpless because my family isn’t here. But what could I do over there? What could I do against bombs? There’s no man-to-man fight. I could volunteer to guard the border. That’s something I’m thinking about, though I have mixed feelings.”

What strikes him about the Netherlands is that many people seem to underestimate the war in Ukraine. “So many people have already died – civilians and soldiers – and so many cities are being damaged. It’s happening on a large scale and it’s really extreme. I’m sorry to say it, but people here are very ignorant.”

“I would like people to understand what’s going on and to take action, because Ukraine needs help,” Yurii says. People in the Netherlands can donate money to official bodies, for the army or for humanitarian purposes. Clothing, medicine and toiletries are needed as well. They have to be transported to Ukraine via Poland. “Everything we can collect is worth it.”

People who support Yurii and want to help Ukraine give him the feeling that he is not alone. “That support lets me know that we are doing the right thing, that our country has the right values. And it gives people the strength and motivation to fight back against the Russian army’s attacks.”

Yurii is absolutely sure: people have to act now, or it will be too late. “The war has only just begun. It’s day fifteen. The attack by Russia was not expected. People have been living in shelters for almost two weeks now. They are trapped, they have nowhere to go. They have nothing to eat, they’re surviving on bread and water. Babies are being born in shelters. Above their heads, in the local neighbourhoods, people are fighting. Aircraft are crashing into houses.”

Nobody in Ukraine supports the Russian government; the population is united as never before, Yurii tells us. They don’t want to be under Russian control. “There used to be people who did not support Ukraine’s pro-Western stance, who tended towards Russia. But when war broke out, those people felt betrayed. They see Russian, Belarussian and Chechen soldiers murdering their friends, shooting children and driving tanks over cars. Needless to say, that support has vanished completely. Ukrainians feel pure hatred flowing through their veins. Fear has changed into anger and hate. And that will probably continue for generations.”

“People realise now how evil and cruel the Russians are,” Yurii says. “I have seen videos of children being shot. Thanks to state propaganda, many people in Russia genuinely believe they are helping us. And many Russians support Putin. After all, he has been in power since 1999. I also know they are not getting proper information. All non-Russian websites, such as YouTube and Twitter, have been blocked. People who used to have access to truthful information no longer have it. Older Russians only have TV, which only broadcasts outright lies. The Russians want it to look like they are doing good. I speak Russian, so I don’t need a translation. I have broken all ties I had with Russians, even with family members in Russia and Belarus. It’s a real pity, but I had no choice.”

“The Russians want to overthrow the government and then withdraw their troops,” Yurii explains. “We won’t stand for that. We don’t want to be under Russian control. We love our president. He was democratically elected. Most Ukrainians support him and the government.”

Asked whether his family want to flee the country, Yurii can’t give a simple answer. “We want the war to stop. If it carries on, more people will die and more cities will be destroyed. If that happens, then starting a new life somewhere else is an option. But we would have to leave everything behind, our houses and all our possessions. Of course we don’t want that; we want to live in peace in Ukraine.”

Do you want to donate to an organization in Ukraine? Yurii suggests The Come Back Alive Foundation

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