This week, in honour of the International Day of Peace and Peace Week, Punt speaks to Avans students who in their young lives have had to flee the violence of war. Maxim Kravets, first-year student in Finance & Control in Breda, is one of them. He fled the war in Ukraine and ended up in the Netherlands.
“I’m doing pretty well now. I recently got my own place in Breda; before that I was living with my mother in Eindhoven. That wasn’t so good because I’m studying in Breda. Now I can go everywhere by bike”, Maxim Kravets told us when we asked how he was doing. “It’s better than the first three months I was here, that’s for sure. That wasn’t fun.”
When earlier this year Russia’s war in Ukraine broke out, Maxim heard the bombs falling close to his home in the city of Dnipro during the first weeks. He and his mother didn’t hesitate for a minute and decide to leave to get away from the violence. “My mother cried when we left Ukraine, and of course I didn’t like leaving either. To have to leave our country, family and friends was very disappointing”, Maxim told us, who then entered a period of uncertainty. “We didn’t have any choice except to make our decision in a split second. There wasn’t any time to think about where we wanted to go. We just left, knowing that we were making a life-changing decision.”
This was the start of a period of chaotic travelling for mother and son. They first went to Hungary, but only stayed there a couple of days before leaving for the German city of Munich. From Munich Maxim and his mother travelled to the Netherlands. They found temporary housing in Amsterdam, where they stayed for a couple of weeks. “Roermond, Zwolle and Eindhoven followed. We got to see a whole bunch of different places”, Maxim said.
In order to illustrate how chaotic Maxim’s life and that of his mother had become even after arriving in the Netherlands, the Avans student told us the story of how he chose to study Finance & Control. “Before I came here, I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to university, let alone what I wanted to study. I had never really thought about it; I kept the possibility of going on to do something after graduating from secondary school open. I had certainly never thought about studying in a different country”, he says with a laugh. “It was all pretty random, even though I’m happy that I’ve been accepted into this international programme. I hope to finish my degree here, but I can’t say what my life is going to be like next year.”
Maxim’s first couple of months in the Netherlands were marked by ambivalent feelings. He was happy to be safe, enjoyed visits to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, and admired the beautiful architecture of Amsterdam, which he loves. But he also missed his father and other family members, particularly during the first three months. During those months he avoided the news because it only made him feel worse. Now things are going better and he regularly talks with people he knows in Ukraine. Maxim is supporting them, and even sending financial support. “They are constantly looking for ways to make money, but it’s really hard. A lot of them are in the army”, the Avans student told us, who also misses his friends. “They inject motivation into my life. Sometimes we have a video call on Instagram, but it’s not the same as seeing each other in real life. I miss my friends and Ukraine.”
‘Sometimes we have a video call on Instagram, but it’s not the same as seeing each other in real life. I miss my friends and Ukraine.’
“What really helped me to feel better was the way we were welcomed in the Netherlands. Everyone was very friendly and wanted to help us. That made me feel better mentally right away. I even appreciate the directness of Dutch people”, Maxim adds.
Maxim, like many of his Ukrainian peers, is lucky to have grown up with the English language, which means he has little trouble finding his way here. He now even speaks a few words of Dutch. But it’s a different story for his mother and most people her age, he says. “That prevents them from adjusting to life here. That’s why many of them return to Ukraine”, the first-year student says. “Then there’s differences in food, for instance, like hagelslag and hutspot. I won’t lie and I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but I don’t like that stuff. It’s really different from our way of eating.”
Maxim also feels a pull to return to Ukraine. Especially now that the defence forces in his homeland are recovering territory from the Russians. “But there are still huge areas that they have to take back. I’m happy that things look a bit brighter, but we have to wait and see.”