Ukrainian students find sanctuary at University of Leicester

Pictured from left: Yeva Zhylova-Velter, Oleksandra Korshunova, Kira Myroshnychenko and Karyna Rudaia.

Four Ukrainian students have travelled one-and-a-half thousand miles to find sanctuary – and continue their studies – at the University of Leicester.

Following the invasion of Ukraine a year ago, the UK university offered support to Kremenchuk Mykhailo Otrohradskyi National University, in the war-torn country.

A twinning agreement was signed just before Christmas, and, as part of the partnership, the Kremenchuck students were soon Leicester-bound.

While the four women’s semester-long study stay means they’ve escaped a city that’s been devastated by Russian shelling, their arrival in Leicestershire has left them with mixed emotions.

“One of the differences that struck me was that at night, all the lights are on in the city, whereas in Kremenchuck there are blackouts because of the rocket attacks,” said Oleksandra Korshunova (19).

“I also don’t have to worry about whether I will survive, when I wake up the next day.

“I am still trying to get used to it, and I am scared of getting used to this, because I want to go back home. My family and friends are still there, so while it is amazing to be in Leicester, it is still very hard.”

Joining Oleksandra at Leicester are compatriots Yeva Zhylova-Velter (21), Karyna Rudaia (20) and Kira Myroshnychenko (19).

Yeva said: “Our tutors here are really kind, and make us feel like we are just normal students. They are also really patient with us, because sometimes we will talk for some time about the situation in Ukraine – we feel it is our duty, not to be silent, but to raise awareness.”

Kira added: “Leicester is quite different, I feel totally safe here. We hope the war will end as fast as it can, Ukraine is still standing after a year.”

Karyna said: “I’ve seen lots of Ukrainian flags across the city, which is cool, it makes me feel at home, it makes me feel supported.”

Kremenchuck is situated in central Ukraine, some 160 miles behind the frontline. The city has been devastated by heavy missile and drone bombardments targeting its power generation facilities, since April 2022.

But, civilian targets have inevitably been caught in the fallout – including the bombing of a shopping mall, in which 22 civilians were killed, with more feared dead.

Oleksandra said: “I remember that day, it was horrible. I was in a sport centre and I remember all of the windows were shaking when the missiles hit the mall. Living with things like that going on isn’t normal, it is very stressful.”

While Kremenchuck and Leicester might seem appear worlds apart right now, the students have found the cities share some likenesses.

“Both are similar in size, although there are more things to do here”, said Yeva. “We’ve loved exploring, and probably my two favourite things so far have been visiting the immersive Van Gough exhibition, and Bradgate Park, which is beautiful.”

All four students are studying education in Ukraine, and are able to broaden their learning while in Leicester, where they are studying modules in English language.

Their attitude has been praised by Ella Cooper, who is a senior personal tutor for study abroad students.

She said: “All four seem to have settled in really well and I have received lots of positive messages from their tutors here, about how well they are settling in and how motivated they are.

“The students have told me that they are really enjoying the modules here and are loving exploring Leicester. Having taught them online last semester, I know how much they were looking forward to coming to the UK to be able to study at the University of Leicester, and I am so happy that we were able to turn that into a reality.”

The University of Leicester signed a Memorandum of Understanding twinning it with Kremenchuk Mykhailo Otrohradskyi National University, in a demonstration of solidarity with institutions affected by conflict in the country.

The Leicester-Kremenchuck partnership will see the institutions collaborate in areas of education and research over a five year period, as part of the UUK Twinning Scheme. 

Support Leicester is providing includes:

  • Clothing for students who have lost access to their support networks due to conflict casualties
  • Online English language classes for staff and students
  • Access to digital library resources
  • Designing and equipping a teaching facility for students without electricity to continue their studies
  • Materials and guidance for first aid training
  • A shipment of English language learning resources, including course books
  • Training for practitioners on the psychological trauma and impact of war, particularly on young people and children
  • Submitted a collaborative research funding bid in the field of aerospace engineering to UKRI.