We are shocked that since the 24th February 2022, there is again a war in Europe. Putin attacked the Ukraine, a sovereign country, without any legitimate reason. We say Putin, because we know this is not a war of Russians against Ukrainians. There are strong bonds between the citizens of both countries – families, friendship, solidarity and shared culture and history. In this Voices of Conflict series, we want to give these people a platform to raise there voice and to share their war story, thoughts and hopes with us. We value these perspectives a lot and respect these individuals’ exceptional circumstances. We hope you do, too.
Kseni is 21 and originally from Saint Petersburg in Russia. She currently studies Literature and Languages in Gent, Belgium as a one-year exchange student. As Russian citizen in the EU, she is experiencing the consequences of global sanctions against Putin and Russia first-hand.
JEF NRW: How are you and your family/friends currently affected by the war in Ukraine?
Kseni: First of all, I would like to say that the state requires that the citizens of the Russian Federation call it a “special operation”. I am also not going to dig into the details of it since, according to the new law, I can be sentenced to 15 years in prison for sharing information which may be different from the official viewpoint.
Right now, the outcomes are not yet visible, but the economic recovery will be tough for my family and most of the other families in the country. What I personally experienced already, is being banned from getting a scholarship from the Flemish government for my Master degree in Flanders. Ben Weyts* said that he does not consider that the citizens of Russia are to blame, but still he is doing the exact opposite thing, making Russian students suffer for what they did not do.
Russian students are the ones who are the most aware of what is happening. We are scared but we continue stating our opinion. Some got dismissed from workplaces (since businesses are closing down) and universities (since participating in peaceful protests is punished). And then, imagine, if you want to flee, but you have almost no financial means to do so as Russian bank cards are blocked outside the country. Ben Weyts is sure that his decision will make the government think. The truth is, the students are the least thought of in this situation. The scholarship is needed not for those in power, they have money to pay for their children. If someone considers locking the most conscious people in one room with an abuser to be an effective solution, I have bad news for him.
*Ben Weyts is the Flemish Minister of Education
JEF NRW: How do you deal with the war situation? What do you think about it?
Kseni: It’s hard knowing that you cannot help directly to the suffering side because of the laws. For me, it also feels extremely strange to continue living a “normal” life. Honestly, I have strange emotions when it comes to doing something entertaining now. Everyone has their coping mechanisms, but I cannot just go to a café, have a small talk, and pretend that nothing is happening.
JEF NRW: Do you take action, and if so, what kind of action?
Kseni: Right now I am helping my friends to pay the fines for peaceful demonstrations. I also donate money to non-profit organisations which provide advocates to the ones arrested during these demonstrations. Raising awareness of what is happening inside the country is in my priorities too.
JEF NRW: Can you tell us more about the path towards the war? What were the past 8 years like?
Kseni: Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question because of that law I mentioned in the beginning. What I can, though, is that it seemed that everyone acted as normal as if nothing was happening. This can be applied to politicians regardless of which country they are from.
JEF NRW: Did you expect an escalation of the conflict like this?
Kseni: No, not even our political scientists could not guess it will turn out to be like that.
JEF NRW: Are you in contact with people from Ukraine?
Kseni: Yes, my close friend was born and raised there, and I am trying to support her emotionally during these hard times.
JEF NRW: What kind of end to the war do you expect? Do you see possibilities for a peaceful war resolution? What could this look like?
Kseni: As days pass, I just want it to end. I am following the news on negotiations, but I am afraid that the general public will never know the price which will be paid for peace.
JEF NRW: What future do you hope for, also regarding the role of the European Union?
Kseni: I hope that the EU will be reasonable and understanding in terms of the solutions which are being made. I want to believe that all the decisions which discriminate against innocent people will be re-examined. We have to walk a long path of acceptance and forgiveness, but I am sure it is possible if not only Russian students but also European counterparts are eager to do so. I wish I could at least try to pursue my dream to continue education in the EU without being punished for my nationality.
JEF NRW: What action do you expect from the European Union?
Kseni: Definitely not the one which carries a message “We know you are not guilty, but still, suffer”. I am sure there are people able to see a picture which is not only black and white.