Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Ukrainian student: ‘The dream of studying abroad kept me going’

Ukrainian Yana Rudenko lived through the Russian occupation of Bucha in March 2022 and the following year came to Leiden to study for a Master’s in Public Administration. How are things going for her and what role does the war play in her student life?

Dreaming in times of war

‘I had always dreamed of studying abroad,’ says the 24-year-old Yana. ‘And after what I experienced in Bucha, it was that dream that kept me going mentally. The war made me feel paralysed, and it was focusing on my dream of studying abroad that helped me get through it. I chose to study for a Master’s in Public Administration, at least in part because of the Russian aggression that I experienced. I want to create a safer world where no country has to go through what we are now suffering.’

The Adriatic-Baltic-Black-Azov seas Student Association (ABBA) together with Refat Chubarov

A student association for and by East European students

In her free time, Yana is currently putting into practice her ambition to improve the world with her activities. She is the founder and chair of the Adriatic-Baltic-Black-Azov Seas Student Association (ABBA), that aims to promote a broader cultural, historical and political understanding of East European countries among Leiden students. Yana: ‘I had the idea of setting up an association shortly after 24 February 2023, the date that marks a year of Russian aggression against Ukraine. We organised an event with a number of Ukrainian students to mark the day and a lot of people came along who wanted to know more about Ukraine.’

ABBA now has 37 student members from 12 different countries and has already organised seven events. Yana is particularly proud of an event held in June. ‘We had arranged a Q & A session with Refat Chubarov, the chair of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tartars (Ed. the highest executive representative body of the Crimean Tartar people).  He was truly inspiring and I hope we can organise more events with speakers like him.’

Yana at a protest for Ukraine

Activism on social media

Another place where Yana tries to improve the world is on social media. She plays a role as an activist on LinkedIn and Instagram. Yana: ‘The first video I posted was the day after the bloodbath in the Olenivka prison on 29 July 2022 That was a week after I arrived in the Netherlands as a refugee. I simply couldn’t just sit by, but felt I had to show the world the war crimes being committed against the Ukrainian people. It stirred up quite a lot of surprised reactions because you don’t often see war on social media. But it’s important that the world knows more about the atrocities that are being committed against humans every day and that the lies being spread by the Russian propaganda are refuted.’

Yana has organised several different fundraising activities on LinkedIn, through which she has gathered 8,000 euros for Ukraine. She also spends a lot of time sharing reliable sources with her followers and trying to raise awareness about the injustices being done to minority groups such as the Crimean Tartars, Circassians and Chechens by Russia. Yana: ‘Because I have experienced injustice myself and every day I see the harm being done to my fellow countrymen on a daily basis, I can no longer ignore injustice in general.’

Enjoying student life

As well as her studies, ABBA and her activism, Yana also finds time to enjoy her student life. Yana: ‘I love my life here and the amazing group of friends I have around me. I study, do sports, eat and drink with them and I can talk about the war completely openly. And they respect my ban on drinking Heineken, because the company sponsors Russian aggression. Finally, I have a real student life.’

Text: Sabine Waasdorp

This website uses cookies.