Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
21 June 2024

& Culture

Ukrainian VU lecturer teaches while worried about family

Just two hours after finding out her home country Ukraine was being bombed and invaded, VU Amsterdam lecturer and PhD candidate Nina Onopriychuk was speaking in front of a class. She shares the experience of suddenly finding out that a big part of her family is in mortal danger.

“Yesterday I woke up at seven in the morning to messages from my family and friends in Ukraine. They were telling me not to worry too much about them. That they will try to be safe. I was shocked. I never expected that Russia would attack. We still hoped this was some sort of ruse to scare the West.

“After that initial shock, I had to teach a class at nine and decided to go through with it. It was a guest lecture for American students, not at VU Amsterdam. It ended up being the most difficult lecture of my life. The subject happened to be the value of the European Union. I kept thinking to myself: we have wanted to become a member of the EU since the fall of the Soviet Union. There have been so many opportunities to work this out, but we were left alone.”

Reaction VU Amsterdam
VU Amsterdam has responded to the invasion in a statement. It says it is in touch with its partner university the U.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University in Kharkov and is looking into possibilities of offering help to colleague academics. It is also looking into ways to assist Ukrainian and Russian students. The International Office can be contacted with questions or concerns.

“The thought of not knowing how my family was doing resulted in a few panic attacks. I have decided to take it easy since then. I am three trimesters into my pregnancy, so I have to stay calm and not stress the baby. My maternity leave officially starts next week. I could barely sleep last night because I wanted to keep up with how my family in Kyiv were doing while the city was about to be bombed. Some of my friends left the capital, it took about twelve hours to reach our city three and a half hours away. I try not to bother them too much, so I only text about once per day.”

A better life

“I was born in the tiny city of Shepetivka, 300km to the West of Kyiv. My parents left in the early 2000s to give me and my brother a better life, so we went to Spain when I was ten. Although they were highly educated individuals, they worked bad jobs just to give us a chance to succeed. Now I have lived in the Netherlands for six years, while my parents are in France and my brother is in Spain. But I have a very big family and many of them are still in Kyiv and the West of Ukraine.

“At the moment I am especially worried about two of my dear cousins. They serve in the military and are on the frontlines defending Ukraine from all sides. It also upsets me that I cannot talk to my grandmother because she lives in an area with poor network coverage. I hope to reach her soon.”

‘I hope they realize there is more at stake than just gas prices’

“What I want most of all is for no harm to come to civilians. Their safety should be the first and foremost priority. I also find it important that the West unites to provide help and assistance. Through economic sanctions, but also military assistance to the Ukrainian army. Some European countries are pushing back against sanctions, I hope they realize there is more at stake than just gas prices. This will and has already impacted everyone living throughout the European continent. I hope they realize what an atrocity this is.

“Some Russians are standing up to the invasion with manifestations, but we expected more from the Russian soldiers. We hoped they would understand how pointless this war is. That it’s an attack on a civilian population. On children, the elderly and on peaceful people. We hoped for a voice of reason within the Russian army, but it has been absent.”


Stick to the subject and show respect: commercial expressions, defamation, swearing and discrimination are not allowed. Comments with URLs in them are often mistaken for spam and then deleted. Editors do not discuss deleted comments.

Fields with * are obligated
** your email address will not be published and we will not share it with third parties. We only use it if we would like to contact you about your response. See also our privacy policy.