Professor who fled Ukraine now teaches online from Leiden

“We regularly receive bad news. That’s how some of my students died. When I hear that, I feel a lot of pain. It’s not only bad for us professors, but also for the students. It’s their friends. It’s hard to deal with all the suffering, but it also gives us the strength to win against Russia and defend our country Ukraine, otherwise all these deaths would have been for nothing. “

Key City Professor Viktoriia Ryhovanova spoke about the war between Ukraine and Russia, her flight from Ukraine, the Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine and the language struggle. “The Russian attack in February came as a huge shock. No one wanted to believe that this attack actually happened. It is incomprehensible and difficult to accept that in the 21st century a European country is attacking another European country. Ukraine has spent so much time and energy avoiding this attack, but in retrospect perhaps not as much as was necessary. A possible attack was discussed everywhere, but nevertheless we were not quite ready for it. “

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
“In 2014, I had to flee from Donetsk to Kiev with my family when the Russians invaded eastern Ukraine by military force. My daughter was two years old at the time and my son was twelve years old. I then had to leave my parental home and my mother. That attack, like the one in February, came as a shock. I want a safe life for me and my children. After the bombing of Kiev, I took the train from Ukraine to Warsaw in Poland with my daughter. “

‘Most Ukrainians flee to Poland or Germany because those countries are close to Ukraine. The initiative to come to Holland came from a linguist at Leiden University and came about through Facebook. She offered me shelter here in Leiden and is now my girlfriend. She has done a lot for me and my daughter. I will continue to follow the latest news from Ukraine via Facebook and Telegram. “

Are your mother, husband and son still in Ukraine?
“My mother still lives in the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine. She’s actually locked up in there. It is now impossible to travel from occupied territory to Ukraine. All checkpoints are closed. The media there is only in Russian. It’s propaganda. The older generation is not so into technology. It is difficult for them to get their information from other sources. Information from Ukraine should not be shared with friends and neighbors for security reasons. “

“My husband is part of the territorial defense. Anyone who wants to defend the state of Ukraine can join it. My son is a student. He does his best. It is his duty to be a brilliant student so he can later use his knowledge in the service of his country. Of course I’m scared. It’s sometimes very difficult to deal with that fear, but my job is to ensure a safe life for myself and my daughter. Everyone has to do their duty. I’m not trying to get too emotional about it. “

How is your daughter?
“Rationally, I’m looking for the best solution at every moment of our lives. We’re lucky to have met the family where we live now. My daughter now feels at home here. She’s already started school again. It’s amazing. She “used to be very emotional and wanted to go home again. She missed her friends, her toys and her school. Now she can smile again. She now asks different questions and has other feelings. Now she asks how long we can stay here.”

“School and spending time with other children is very important for a child, even if the children do not know the language. My daughter also goes to an international class with other Ukrainian children. They have a Ukrainian counselor there who helps the children with the language barrier and with the school system. Children do not need many words to play and interact with each other. She is now learning the Dutch language at school, and I am learning the language from her again. ”

How does the contact with your students go?
“There was a two-week break in teaching after the war broke out. Then we started organizing digital lessons. In the first session, only three students were present. These were not real lessons either, because we mainly exchanged information about students. Now we have a schedule that we had in college and many students are back present. We are also getting more and more time for educational matters. ”

“We can now talk about the studies that the students have to do, or articles that they have to read. At first I was in doubt about the usefulness of these meetings. I have changed my mind. Even students say the meetings help them. You are involved in something and you are part of a group. Obtaining a diploma for the future is also very important. “

“The male students who come online often wear uniforms. They serve in the military. Yet they are trying to be with us. They clearly indicate what tasks they may or may not perform well. Their sense of duty to the classes helps them keep their lives on track. Many female students have spread around the world and also come online, whether they are in the United States or in a European country. ”

What role does language play in the conflict?
“We are now trying to say out loud in Ukraine: we want to be different from Russia, not only on paper but also in reality. Language means a lot. It’s not just a tool for communicating, but it can even be an argument for invading another country. My mother tongue is Russian. I learned Ukrainian in school and used it at university. Language is really no obstacle to understanding each other. ”

“Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 with the excuse that the Russian-speakers should be defended. The Russian-speakers were not in danger at all. The Russian invasion means war and death. The raid also shows that the whole of Europe is in danger because Russian speakers live in many places, such as the Baltic countries and Moldova. Ukraine now has the opportunity to let the whole world know that the country differs from Russia not only in language but also in morals and values. “

‘False news spread by the Russians about aggressive Ukrainians who want to ban the Russian language. A week ago, I heard from an acquaintance about her relatives who had fled to the unoccupied part of Ukraine. Russian propaganda said Nazis lived there. Her relatives were scared because they only spoke Russian. “They called in surprise and said they could only speak Russian and that no one blamed them.”

Has the West paid sufficient attention to an independent Ukraine?
“The Russian language and the Ukrainian language have many similarities. Ukrainians understand Russian. The Russians do not understand Ukrainians. I think many Russians do not understand Ukrainian because of an internal opposition to understanding the language. In the 1930s, the Russian Academy tried to implement the Soviet identity in all republics of the Soviet Union. A lot was done at the time to make Ukrainian look like Russian. “

“For example, letters in the Ukrainian language had to disappear because they did not exist in Russian. A few days ago I was in the Leiden library and I saw a book with a long list of Ukrainian authors who were murdered in Soviet times. These writers sought attention for the Ukrainian identity and had to pay for it with death. “In the Russian-occupied eastern part of the country, attempts have been made to enforce Ukrainian in schools, but it has been banned by the Russians.”

“Russia wants only Russian to be spoken. For Europe, Ukraine was part of Russia for many years, even after we regained our independence. The idea of ​​a reunification of the former Soviet republics still has many supporters. What surprises me afterwards is that we remained silent for so long. Now is the chance to show that Ukraine is an independent country. “Most people in the West now know at least where Ukraine is geographically.”

What now?
“I think we need more than a generation to understand why the Russians do not understand us, why they are not overthrowing their government, and why they are not stopping their attacks. Why are they hurting the people they should be defending? It will be many years before we can become friends again. We need time to deal with these memories. “

“We all have our personal stories in Ukraine. My husband’s parents are Russians. Thanks to Russian propaganda, they can not believe the atrocities that are happening in our country. They do not understand their own son. They can not believe what he is saying. “Maybe they’re just scared. For example, they think they can always be tapped. They only use the wording they hear on Russian television.”

What does life in Leiden look like?
“I have a lot of work to do in Leiden. I keep in touch with my students every morning. I help my daughter with the assignments she gets from school. So I have not seen much of Leiden yet. I spent a few hours in Naturalis with “My daughter. It was very interesting. I also visited a Greek Orthodox church in Rotterdam with my host family at Easter. Easter is the most important day of the year for Ukrainians.”

“I have not turned off the Kiev air attack siren on my phone yet. In Leiden, I understand again what it is like to plan ahead. If you plan ahead, you assume you will live. When you live in uncertainty, you can not plan “More than a day ahead. For me, planning is a sign that I can handle the consequences of the war.”


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