I don’t really know what normal university life is. Last fall was my first term at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and I had only a few lectures and seminars in person because of the pandemic. When the new semester started in January, we were still doing hybrid classes, but in the middle of February, we switched to distance when restrictions got too hard.

A lot of people talked about war and some people prepared suitcases, but I couldn’t believe it. It was the same situation a year ago with lots of Russian troops at the borders of Ukraine, and nothing bad happened. 

But when my parents came to get me on the day the Russian troops invaded Ukraine, I was extremely scared and crying as I packed my clothes. It was the worst night of my entire life. I was scared for myself and my family. I was checking the news all night. When I heard the sound of explosions, I woke my sister and parents to go to the shelter. 

The next day, we left Kyiv. Usually, it takes three hours to journey to the small town where our relatives live in Western Ukraine, but that day it took 12 hours. I knew that I wanted to continue my studies, so during the two weeks we spent with my relatives I searched online and found an opportunity with MacEwan University. I talked to the International Office and they helped me with everything, but getting a visa took a lot of time. 

After those first two weeks, my parents decided to send my sister and me to Vienna, where my dad had friends and colleagues he knew would help us. He took us to the Romanian border, where volunteers helped my sister and me make our way to Vienna. It was my first journey to another country without my parents. 

We spent two months there and so many people helped us. It’s such a beautiful city and I met many cool people, but it was bittersweet. Walking around and going to cafes didn’t seem right when there was war in my country and my friends were hiding in shelters. 

In April, I got my visa and started making my way to Edmonton. I knew that so much could go wrong. Sometimes I think I’m too young for all of this stuff – I just turned 18 a few months ago – and that I can’t handle it because of my lack of experience, but I keep trying to be strong. 

When my plane arrived in Edmonton earlier than scheduled, I did not think anyone would be there to help me. I was in another country, another continent and I didn’t even know where I would live. I was pretty upset and crying as I walked around the airport. Then I saw a group of people with Ukrainian flags. They were from MacEwan and were there to meet me. I was still crying, but I was happy. 

I’ve been here for four weeks now, and I’m just finishing my distance classes at Kyiv Mohyla. I will take some courses at MacEwan in July, and in the fall, I would like to join the MacEwan Model UN Club. I have heard lots of good things about them. 

I have a roommate who is also a visiting student from Ukraine. I have someone to talk to, and we can share our experiences. My mom is still in Vienna with my younger sister, and my dad is in Ukraine – men from 18 years old to 65 are not allowed to leave – but he is with my granddad, so he is also not alone. 

I really miss my family and home city, but I keep smiling, laughing and joking. It is what keeps me alive.

–Kateryna Kuzmuk is a visiting first-year student from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’s Bachelor of International Relations program.

MacEwan International and the university’s Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre have been working to bring vising Ukrainian students to Edmonton since the war began.

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