“How could people in Russia believe that we would do this to ourselves?”

“How could people in Russia believe that we would do this to ourselves?”

"For my parents it is a relieve that their children are safe"


It is three weeks ago since Russia invaded the neighbouring Ukraine. There is still no sign of the war ending any time soon. How are the Ukrainians studying at Maastricht University doing?

His mobile phone keeps buzzing with notifications throughout the interview. Mykola Antoniuk (26), a master’s student of Intellectual Property Law and Knowledge Management, is trying to keep in constant contact with his friends and family in Ukraine. “My parents stayed in Kyiv. My father has joined the civilian resistance and my mother is taking care of my grandmother, who refused to leave. My sister goes to university in Poland. She was supposed to go back to Ukraine the day before the war began. Luckily, she decided to stay in Poland. My parents keep saying that they are so relieved we are safe. It’s one less thing for them to worry about.”

No emotions

Antoniuk hardly feels any emotions anymore, he says. “At first, I was shocked and scared. Now, nothing surprises me anymore. I don’t even know what to feel when the Russians bomb civilian targets. I get depressed reading analyses by experts saying that the war might last six months. I try to keep from losing myself in that feeling by talking to friends and reading books. I thought that studying would distract me, but it didn’t work.”

He isn’t sure if and when he will return to Ukraine. “Predicting my future has become very difficult.” The past few weeks, he has been helping friends who fled Ukraine, as well as other refugees, from Maastricht. Not all of his friends have left. “Some have gone to the west of the country, where it’s supposedly safer. Others are doing volunteer work or fighting the Russians.”


Antoniuk is grateful for the unity of the West, but he fears that sanctions alone will not be enough. “They’re more of a long-term strategy. They will make it harder for Russia to finance the war. I understand that it’s very difficult for NATO to impose a no-fly zone. Russia and some of its allies have nuclear weapons. We don’t want a Third World War. But I would be glad if a no-fly zone was imposed.”

President Zelensky is giving people hope, says Antoniuk. “I wasn’t a big supporter of him before the war. I appreciated the fact that he was a liberal president, but I thought he was too inexperienced. I listen to his speeches every day. He is very honest in them. Maybe you don’t need any political experience in a situation like this. You just need to be a good person, and I think he is.”

Russian rebels

The idea of a long-running conflict frightens Antoniuk. “Like in Syria and also in Donetsk, where it’s been going on for eight years.” He believes that the only solution is for the Russian people to stop Putin. “Biden has already said that the US will not be part of this war. The international community has imposed all possible sanctions on Russia, so I don’t know what else they can do. And Putin has shown us that he will go as far as he can. I see this as Russia’s war, not just as Putin’s war. It’s the responsibility of the Russian people that he has been their leader for twenty years now. Most of them just accept the situation. I know that some people are protesting and rebelling, but they’re a minority. I read – on a Russian website, so I don’t know how true it is – that 71 per cent of the Russian people support the invasion. I know they are fed propaganda, but I don’t understand how anyone could believe that we are destroying our own buildings and killing our own people. Why would Ukraine do that? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: archive Mykola Antoniuk

Categories: People
Tags: ukraine,russia,putin,war,eu,nato,europe,portraitukraine

Add Response

Click here for our privacy statement.

Since January 2022, Observant only publishes comments of people whose name is known to the editors.