I meet Yuliia Motrenko – a Ukrainian CBS student attending the Bioentrepreneurship and Business Administration program – for an interview at my office at Solbjerg Plads to discuss how it feels to have family members in the heart of a war zone.
She looks calm and is wearing a dusty pink sweater and black glasses. She takes a seat and folds her hands on the table in front of her, as I ask her how she is doing.
“It’s a really complicated question to answer. On the one hand, I can’t say I’m doing well, because of what is happening in my home country. On the other – I can’t say I’m doing badly, because my family is in Ukraine right now, fighting for their lives alongside my friends and old teachers, while I’m here, completely safe,” she says.
The facts are that Yuliia’s mother and grandmother have fled Kyiv, where Yuliia grew up and lived up until six months ago, and now they are trapped in a house in a small village about 40 kilometers from the capital of Ukraine.
“My mom and granny are in Oblast, which is a small county outside Kyiv. They have a house there, but they are stuck and can’t go anywhere because the bus stations and railway stations are too far away. They have food left for four or five days. And they are sharing what they have with their animals also living in the house,” Yuliia explains, clearly affected, but looking straight at me with her brown eyes.
“My dad is also in Ukraine and has had to stay and fight,” she adds.
The plan is for Yuliia’s mother and grandmother to find a way out of Ukraine as soon as possible.
They want to go to Poland and from there to France, where Yuliia’s sister and her husband live and have already found them a place to live.
Unfortunately, no one seems to dare to collect the two women in the village outside Kyiv.
“So they are trapped, and humanitarian aid is currently centered around the big cities, so they have no way of getting more food,” says Yuliia.
My stepdad is hiding in basements
Other than her mom and granny, Yuliia has a stepdad currently trying to avoid bombs and the Russian military in Kyiv.
“He was in a neighborhood that was bombed the other day. Now he is hiding in basements in the city. He is actually a military officer but because so many young Ukrainians are volunteering for the army right now, the military are prioritizing the youngsters. My stepdad is 55 years old, so he has not been enlisted yet,” she says and adds:
“This Russian invasion is not a war where two equal armies are fighting each other. In my opinion, it is genocide, where innocent civilians are targeted.
I ask her how she is coping with a situation like this.
“I don’t know,” she replies. “I call my family all the time. I check in every hour to be sure they are all right.”
“The Russians claim we have no rights – that’s bullsh!t”
Yuliia was first made aware that war had broken out during an early phone call from her mother on Thursday 24 February.
“It was 6 AM in Denmark, and my mom called me and told me Russians were shooting and attacking. I completely panicked and didn’t know what to do. Later, I sent money to my family and made sure I knew that they were getting out of the capital,” Yuliia explains.
Since then, the panic has continued and the uncertainty of what will happen in the next hour, day and week only rises by the minute.
Yet the feeling of pride in the Ukrainian nation is growing with equal speed.
“Russians are saying that we do not have the right to be an independent nation and that we are nothing but rebels. That’s bullsh!t. Ukraine is actually older than Russia. Our resilience has been tested in wars many times throughout our history. For centuries, we have fought for freedom and independence. We are used to resisting repression from outside. This gathers us as a nation and I am extremely proud of my people,” Yuliia says.
When the Russian military bombs hospitals, schools and kindergartens, the Ukrainian people respond by fighting back with every means possible, she elaborates.
“Even old women who are more than 80 years old resist by puncturing tires on Russian vehicles or putting laxatives in the soldiers’ tea. Students from my previous university are preparing Molotov cocktails with help from homeless people, who are collecting bottles. Everyone is together. Fighting.”
There is no God, only the Ukrainian army
As for the future, Yuliia has faith in the Ukrainian people and military.
“There is a saying in my country right now – ‘there is no God, only the Ukrainian army’. I trust in our military, and I really hope we win this war. And then we will rebuild our country on the ruins caused by Russia. If we don’t, I fear no one in Europe is safe. Putin is likely to advance to the Baltics. Therefore, we need all the help that we can get,” she says and adds:
“I encourage everyone to financially support our military. It is our only hope of survival.”
I thank Yuliia for her courage and for telling her story. She gathers her things and prepares to go to class. In a parallel world. Away from war, and at the same time, right in the heart of it.