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Ukrainian psychology student Sofia: ‘After over a year of war in Ukraine, I feel such pain and despair’

It’s over a year ago since Russia started its war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Life has carried on for the Ukrainian students in Leiden as they try to make the best of things. Last summer, we spoke to Sofia, who started her second year on the Psychology programme last September. How is she coping?

Far from home

‘I’m doing well,’ Sofia said last summer. ‘I’ve visited my mother, who has escaped to Sweden. I’m so glad she had the chance to go there.’ When the war broke out she lost all contact with her family. No one replied to her messages and the phone went unanswered. In Leiden, far from home, she didn’t spend too long waiting to see what would happen. ‘I applied to the Emergency Fund fairly quickly. I can’t support myself alone.’ After a while, Sofia managed to get in touch with her family again. Her father had lost his job because of the war and her mother had fled the country, so they could no longer support her financially.

When we speak to Sofia again in March she sounds quite down. ‘The day we commemorated one year of war in Ukraine was really hard. I had so hoped that it would end, but it hasn’t. It’s terrible to see people dying every day and incredibly painful not to be able to do anything about it.’ Things might be hard for Sofia but she is focusing on her future. ‘I need something to look forward to, so I’m concentrating on my studies and on better opportunities for myself.’ Her mother is still in Sweden; they saw each other during the Christmas holiday. The rest of her family she speaks to on the phone.

Every Ukrainian needs help

So far we have been able to help 19 students with money from the Emergency Fund. A total of 33 grant applications have been approved. Some students have made multiple requests that have been approved. Sofia only knows two other Ukrainian students, two girls on her programme. They are also receiving financial support from the Emergency Fund. ‘It really helps. In general, I think that every single Ukrainian abroad needs help now, students in particular. It’s so hard to find a job that pays the bills. You obviously can’t work full time when you’re studying, and in the Netherlands the younger you are, the less you earn,’ she said last summer. ‘I’m therefore combining money from the Emergency Fund with a personal crowdfunding page to fund everything. I’ll be able to manage with the two together.’

Six months later Sofia has received support from the Emergency Fund three times and has also been supported by a private donor via the LUF and has submitted a new request. She was able to pay her tuition fee with her crowdfunding but that’s not working anymore. ‘The University has also reduced my tuition fee to the EU fee, which I’m really grateful for. Otherwise, I would have had to stop my degree,’ she says. She used to babysit for various families but now she works in a restaurant. But it’s still difficult to make ends meet. ‘I’m really shocked at how quickly the prices are rising. Each time I go to the supermarket it’s that bit more expensive.’

She emphasises the importance of the Emergency Fund. ‘With my part-time job, I can only pay for my food. The rent is incredibly expensive and is also increasing. That’s my biggest worry. All my Ukrainian friends here say the same. Some have two jobs and still can’t pay for everything. Receiving this support reduces the stress of not being able to pay your rent. Being able to count on a contribution makes life easier and less stressful.’

Future dreams

Many donors feel a personal connection to the aim of the Emergency Fund. We’ve always had the option to study in safety, they say. Grant these Ukrainian youngsters their future dreams too. ‘Everyone deserves peace and a future,’ one anonymous donor writes. If it were up to her, Sofia would become a researcher in the future. She starts her second year on the Psychology programme after the summer. A programme with plenty of options, she emphasises. ‘My programme’s really good. There are lots of areas within the discipline and the first year covers many of them. You can choose the one you’re interested in, but it’s really important to try everything out first,’ she says.

Before she started her degree, Sofia was veering towards both neuroscience and cognitive psychology but this broad first year has settled that. ‘I’m now thinking of a career in cognitive psychology, as a researcher. In the future, I’d like to be of value to people with all sorts of diseases and problems. But for now, I’m going to keep trying out lots of different areas.’

*Your support means that affected students can continue to focus on the future. Donations are always welcome and still very much needed. If you too would like to help, why not donate to the Emergency Fund?

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