Ukrainian students reflect on 2nd anniversary of Russian invasion

Valeria Yakushko and Khrystyna Nyshchei

Western sociology master’s student, Valeria Yakushko has not forgotten the night of Feb. 23, 2022, when she flew from Italy to Kyiv, Ukraine on one of the last flights into the city.

The flight arrived early the next morning in Kyiv where everyone was talking about a potential Russian invasion. Yakushko took an Uber home, ate some chicken noodle soup and got ready for bed. She recalled looking skeptically at the bags of documents and medicine her mother had packed in case anything happened and thinking “Oh it’s the 21st century, it cannot happen.”

But just two hours later, Yakushko’s mother shook her awake to the sound of explosions in the city.

Days later, the pair left Kyiv and have not returned home since.

 Valeria Yakushko

Valeria Yakushko, Western sociology master’s student, left Kyiv days after the war broke out.
Courtesy of Valeria Yakushko 


On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, by land, air and sea with Russian missiles and troops entering the country. In the following two years, the war continued, affecting the lives of Ukrainians across the world including those now living in Canada. 

“Feb. 24 was a turning point that changed the lives of all Ukrainians by 180 degrees. I am not an exception,” said Khrystyna Nyshchei, a PhD student studying history at Western University, in an email to the Gazette

Nyshchei came to Canada to pursue her PhD in September 2022, months after the war began. She has not seen her family who remain in Ukraine — including her parents and grandparents — in two years. She worries about their health as the war drags on into its third year. 

The first thing Yakushko does every morning is check the news about Ukraine — sometimes every hour a day. 

“Sometimes I am afraid of turning on my phone because I may find out that my house was destroyed or my friends, acquaintances were killed by Russians,” Yakushko told the Gazette in an email. Just a few days ago when Yakushko scrolled through Facebook, she learned that her neighbour had been killed fighting in the army.

Both students have friends and family fighting in the Ukrainian military, many of whom Nyshchei knows are not professional soldiers, but decided to fight to defend their country following the invasion. 

“Now Ukrainians are fighting for their existence, as a nation, as a state, as human life. Now Ukraine is fighting for democratic values. I want to believe in justice — that Russia will bear consequences for aggression,” said Nyshchei.

“Despite the pain and suffering that my country is going through, I want to believe in an independent and prosperous Ukraine.”

 Khrystyna Nyshchei

Khrystyna Nyshchei, a PhD student studying history at Western, came to Canada in September 2022 and has not seen her family remaining in Ukraine since. 
Courtesy of Khrystyna Nyshchei


Nyshchei describes being a student throughout the war as feeling “split.” While she can’t envision a clear future with her friends and family back home remaining in danger, she lives in London safely attending classes and socializing with friends. 

“Physically you are here, but in soul, you are there. Of course, constant stress and anxiety affects my life and studies. However, I try to learn and continue to live,” said Nyshchei. “I see the value of my academic studies, and my mission here — to study and talk about Ukraine.”

She feels that to be Ukrainian now involves a responsibility to represent her country as an ambassador and use her words and actions to reflect the motherland. 

Both Nyshchei and Yakushko are grateful to the university for its support after they settled in London.  

Nyshchei wants to thank her professors, staff and fellow history students for helping her overcome the confusion about the new academic system and unfamiliar country. Yakushko is researching the Ukrainian refugee crisis for her master’s research paper and has an interest in veteran mental health. 

The two students have been able to connect with Ukrainian communities since arriving in Canada through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the London Ukrainian Centre and the Western University Ukrainian Students Association. On Saturday, hundreds of people attended  a rally to support war-torn Ukraineat Victoria Park in London.

World leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gathered in Kyiv Saturday where Trudeau signed a security co-operation agreement with Ukraine to provide $2.7 billion in military and financial assistance to Kyiv this year. 

Mélanie Joly, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs announced sanctions against 10 more Russian individuals and 153 entities in alignment with the United States and United Kingdom on Friday. 

“Today, we’re sending a clear message to Russian officials and the organizations they run: We stand by the people of Ukraine as they are bravely defending their rights in the face of Putin’s unjustifiable and aggressive actions,” said Joly in a press release.

She promised that Canada would continue to use “disruptive measures” to target Russia’s ability to wage war until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are restored. 

Both Yakushko and Nyshchei have hope as their country remains under attack. 

“To be Ukrainian today is, above all, to be courageous and remember your home, no matter where you are. Because where home is, there is your heart. And while Ukraine is beating, my heart is beating,” said Nyshchei.