Porträtaufname der ukrainischen Studentin Diana Tarasova

“The whole day was like a nightmare for me” / Friedrich Schiller University Jena Blog

Diana Tarasová studies German as a foreign language at Friedrich Schiller University. She came to Jena in September 2021. We talked to her about the situation in her home country, Ukraine.

How did you find out about the war in your country?

That was February 24th. In the morning I was still sleeping when my friend called me. He comes from Kharkiv, a city that was heavily attacked. He said, “The war has begun, get your parents!”

At first I couldn’t believe it. The escalation between Donbass and Russia has been going on for a long time, so it seemed unlikely that anything would happen now. I thought: No, it can’t be, he must have misunderstood something.

When I looked at my phone afterwards, I had a lot of messages, much more than normal. That was one of those moments when you know something is wrong. My parents, siblings and acquaintances reported hearing bomb explosions in the morning when the nearby Dnieper Municipal Airport was attacked. Everyone was afraid. They didn’t know what happened. There has been no news about it yet. No one knew then how to proceed.

The whole day was like a nightmare for me. I read the news and still couldn’t fathom that this was really happening. It didn’t seem like reality. I was hoping that I would wake up and everything would be fine. But it got worse and worse.

What is your family like and how do you assess the situation in your country?

In my native Dnieper, the situation is still relatively good. The city is not on the border, but in the center of Ukraine, south of the capital Kyiv. After the bombing, Russian troops were soon in the adjacent region of Zaporozhye. You’re already thinking about what will happen when units from the adjacent area advance and where they might move.

Everyone is shocked and scared. I talked to my parents about running away. But men (between 18 and 60 years, editor’s note) he is not allowed to leave the country and my mother does not want to leave my father. He says he’s staying. We also have a dog and a cat. They also notice that something is wrong. The dog would not eat for several days. Animals are another reason my mother doesn’t want to run away. I just hope that everything will be alright in my city at least. I’m going crazy to imagine it being any other way.

The wealth of news is enormous. How and through what channels do you get information?

Above all, I try to use verified sources. I also use social networks. For example, I use my city profile on Instagram, similar to the city of Jena. And the country also has its own profile. I also get information in groups on Instagram and Telegram. The pictures that can be seen there also show me that this is not fake news. Above all, there were photos of our airport that I recognized. Of course, I also use other sources, e.g. Deutsche Welle or other verified broadcasting companies. It is important for me to see the different sides, understand them and ask why this happened.

How do you keep in touch with friends and family in Ukraine?

I’ve been lucky so far because I’m still connected to my hometown. In cities such as Kharkiv and Kyiv, the attacks disrupted telecommunications and mobile communications, making communication difficult. For example, in our city there is a problem with the siren. That is why there is a Telegram channel that provides information about the start and end of the siren alarm. When I see this message, after ten minutes I call my mom and ask if the alarm was just a warning or if something really happened. The siren mostly responded to objects in the sky, but nothing happened.

But even without an alarm clock, I call my parents every day as long as I have the strength to do so. If I cry a lot, I prefer not to call, because I want to talk to my parents in a good mood, to tell them that everything will be fine.

I often write with my friends. I am mostly in contact with people from Kharkiv. Some of my friends are no longer in Ukraine or at the border. I ask them how they are and if I can help them. So I try to keep in touch.

Do you know young men who now have to defend and fight in Ukraine?

When a city is attacked, men between the ages of 18 and 60 must protect the city and take up arms. I have no personal contact with the boys and men mobilized so far. But everyone I know from the Dnieper says that if the worst happens, of course they will fight. They consider it their duty to protect the city and the countryside. Even those who have no military experience. But they all have great courage. You don’t want to hide. Above all, they want to protect the civilian population, women and children – even if they have to take up arms to do so.

What is your relationship with Russia and your friends there?

The conflict with Russia is difficult. We were brotherly nations. My mother tongue is actually Russian because in our region Russian is more dominant than Ukrainian. Now everyone hates Russia as the sanctions show. What Putin and his government did will be remembered forever, no one will forgive it.

Contact with Russia is difficult for me. My best friend moved to Moscow five years ago. He says, “There is nothing we can do. We can’t demonstrate because then we’ll be kicked out of the university and we’ll be punished.” You can even be punished for posting on social media. The pressure is very high in Russia. It’s really sad because there are some people in Russia who want to help but can’t and aren’t allowed to.

Do you feel the influence of Russian propaganda?

It can be seen that people believe Russian propaganda. They really think this is a peaceful Russian operation. But everything broadcast in the Russian media is not true. But if you only see this one side, of course you believe it. Despite this, there will be brave people who will find and present other sources who want to show the truth, even if protests are suppressed and people punished. It can be seen that the Russian government is afraid. And that’s why it’s so terrible. If everyone understood what was really going on, the war could already stop, the Russian government could already be dissolved.

Does it also lead to conflicts with your friends in Russia?

Yes of course. I have friends in Russia. They see what is happening, but they blame Ukraine. But what were we to do, how should we be guilty? I don’t understand that, especially when our country itself is affected. In Russia, you don’t have to prove anything or argue that they don’t understand. That’s why I cut off contact with them.

How has your life and daily life changed in Jena? How do you deal with your fears and anxieties?

If I compare myself now and two weeks ago, I am doing very well now. I got over the horrible feeling at the beginning. I was completely broken. I didn’t want to do anything, eat anything, I just cried for two days. I was just in my room. When everyone asks how you are, you immediately know something is wrong. Then the thoughts keep coming back to that situation. So it was very difficult for me to even talk to people. I have read a lot of news but it is also very tiring. Now I put it together. I understood that I had to move on and be strong to help my family.

I try to be active in many places. For example, I financially support many organizations, I try to talk to people, I offer my help. This also gives me new strength. I understood that life goes on – but only if I don’t fumble and cry all day. I left a lot of things behind at the university in those two weeks. Now I want to continue there. Of course, family still comes first.

What are you doing to help?

There is a lot of humanitarian aid. For example, in Jena, donations are collected again and again. For that, I bought non-perishable food, like cookies. I also try to support organizations that help refugees. For example, my mobile operator collects money to give to countries that accept refugees. At the moment it is mainly Poland or Moldova.

In addition, many volunteers who speak Ukrainian or Russian and can translate are now needed. This fits my field of study because I want to teach German to others later. Now I want to use my translation skills. I haven’t done much yet because I haven’t had the strength yet. But from now on I want to be involved.

How do you think it will continue?

It is a very uncertain time. I do not know what to do. We were not a rich country, we were fighting corruption, we had some reforms and we wanted to join the EU. Now the cities and half the country are broken and destroyed. Two million people have already fled Ukraine. I am really worried if people can stay in Ukraine and continue to live there. The life that people and my family built for themselves no longer exists in this form.

I got a scholarship to do a master’s degree in Germany. But what about students in Ukraine? I don’t know if they can graduate. I don’t know about those who go to school either. Many lives and dreams were destroyed.

Of course, I hope that the war will finally end, that we will be able to rebuild the cities and everything will be fine again. But that cannot be said now.

What is the best way to help Ukraine and the refugees?

The most important thing is the support. What Germany and Europe are doing is incredibly important to Ukraine. The support of Ukraine from the whole world shows that Ukraine is doing the right thing, that we are not the enemy, but the adversary is Russia.

Helping is very important. Currently, money is not needed for Ukraine itself, the refugees need our help much more. You can donate money, food, clothes or other material donations to organizations that care for refugees. When people flee, they take almost nothing with them. you have nothing

Is there anything you would like to say in closing?

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to inform about the situation in my native country in the interview. I think it’s very important that people can learn from different sources and perspectives if they want to. It also helps me or other Ukrainians to talk to others and share my story, our experiences and my perspective.

The interview took place on March 9, 2022.

Photo: Jens Meyer / University of Jena

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