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18 July 2024

Student Life
& Society

Ukrainian VU graduate defends his country in cyberspace

There is more than one way to defend a country under siege. Volodymyr Sukhorebryi, who received his master’s degree from VU Amsterdam several months ago, is trying to help his fellow Ukrainians by providing them with valuable information.

“Once the war started, I felt kind of dead inside. And I was also terrified for friends and relatives. I planned to leave Amsterdam for Ukraine. There I would have likely joined a territorial protection unit, which is a different defense force than the army. I would be staying in my home town and await what would happen. I suppose I would be given a weapon, but there are other roles of defense than just combat. I would go wherever they would find me useful.

“I am from Vinnytsia, a city near the center of Ukraine. While studying here I still went back to my home town every half a year to see my family and friends. Before this war I was looking forward to my family visiting me during spring time to see the beautiful tulips at Keukenhof.

‘Unlike the curfews we recently had in the Netherlands, you might be shot if you’re out at night.’

“Men between 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave, so my brother and father have to stay. And the rest of my family, including my mother, is still there too. Evacuation is quite complicated. I’m very worried about my father, because he works in a different city and has to go there every day. He has to avoid the strict curfews that are in place. Unlike the curfews we recently had in the Netherlands, you might be shot if you’re out at night.

“I’m still checking in with friends to see if they are alright. Some were hiding in bunkers from the most dangerous types of warfare. It was painful to hear from them that for a second day they’re hiding there while bombs are going off around them and they are hungry. I am very proud of my people for being united and strong.”

The information front

“In the end I decided to stay here. It’s a three day journey to reach Ukraine and my parents told me to stay here and fight on the information front.

“I try to help by monitoring social media and different online chats. If someone needs help, I do my best to give them useful information. For instance if someone needs to evacuate, I look for people who are already leaving and have space in their vehicle. I also help people find shelter if they need somewhere to hide. I’m not doing this as part of an organization, but I use my own network. If I know a person who knows a person who is leaving the city at a certain time and has space for two more people, that can make a difference.

‘t’s tough to talk about feeling supported when cities are bombed and long-time friends might not be alive one minute from now’

“Everything is very chaotic, but we all try to do what we can in any possible way. There is actually a lot of communication within the gaming community. Today I played a game and someone asked me to help one of his relatives find shelter, so I have been trying to assist with that.

“There is also a lot of fake information that I try to counter. For example there was some organization that suddenly appeared, collecting money for our army. But they turned out to be thieves.”

Dam Square

“I have gone to demonstrations to remind people that although it may seem far away, the war is felt here too. During the first protests in Amsterdam there were not many people. Maybe two hundred of us were trying to support each other and share news. After that, a whole lot of people came to Dam Square.

“It felt inspiring that the world is showing so much support. Although it’s tough to talk about feeling supported when cities are bombed and long-time friends might not be alive one minute from now. But it is helpful seeing the world unite against this.’”

“Due to studying European and International Law, it is sad to see all this action from the perspective of what I have learned. The education I received was excellent and I really liked studying these subjects. However, as a joke, I would say that you can skip your homework on international law, because it’s not working.

Also read the experience of a Ukranian VU lecturer.

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