‘I have lost some friends in this war’

Ukrainian student Lev Medin was obsessed with the war in his homeland last year, but is now focusing on other things as well. “I’ve learned to control it.”

As an Orthodox Christian, Ukrainian communication student Lev Medin celebrates Christmas in January. He nevertheless enjoyed the December holidays, which he spent with friends. He planned to meet somewhere with his Ukrainian friends who live all over Europe, but it didn’t work out. He is going to Panama this weekend, where his father lives. “I met my mother last summer in Slovakia, close to the Ukrainian border. It was a kind of holiday, it was a lot of fun,” he says.

It is now almost a year since Russia invaded Ukraine. Medin was already studying at VU at that time. His father had left the country just before the outbreak of war. Both are now stuck in their host country. They could return to Ukraine, but since all Ukrainian men are legally prohibited from leaving Ukraine, they would have to stay there. Medin has a brother who lives in Ukraine and has not yet been mobilized to fight the Russians. “And I’m very happy about that,” says Medin. “I’ve lost some friends in this war and it’s terrible.”

Last February, Medin was understandably obsessed with the war. He followed the news day and night and was involved in all possible actions to support the Ukrainian people. At VU, together with other students and researchers and with the help of VU, he collected goods, food and money for Ukraine. He was at every meeting on Ukraine, agitated and annoyed when the speakers were too condescending to the Russians for his taste. Medin didn’t seem to sleep much. He ate, drank and breathed the war in Ukraine.

Satisfying

“I’m focusing on other things now,” he says. “I follow developments on various newsgroups on Telegram, but I have learned to master it. I’m not that emotionally involved anymore.” Others involved in the relief efforts stopped earlier to concentrate on their daily activities, their work and their studies. “Only three Ukrainians were involved in the relief efforts, for the others the war was far from their own world,” says Medin. “But I don’t judge anyone, because I felt the same with the wars in Syria and Afghanistan. And I am grateful to VU for what it has done, and I am grateful to the Netherlands for all the support and weapons.

He has always been optimistic about the outcome of this war, and he still is. “The Russians didn’t gain control of much territory, no major cities, except Kherson, and we recaptured it last November.” He quotes Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, assassinated in 1996, who predicted a war between Ukraine and Russia, saying that “Russia will disappear when the Ukrainian sun rises.” It is a popular quote in newsgroups where Ukraine is supported. Medin also quotes Soviet General Alexander Lebed, who was killed in an accident in 2002, as saying that the best soldiers are those who have nothing to lose.

Atomic weapons

“We’re winning,” he says. “Unless Putin deploys nuclear weapons. Some say that by summer Ukraine will have recaptured all of Crimea, which has been in Russian hands since 2014, but it will be difficult. However, Putin made a big mistake. Many Ukrainians were pro-Russian before the war. But what do you think will happen when you see your family, friends, neighbors killed by Russian bombs?”

Does he really believe that Russia could use nuclear weapons against Ukraine? “Anything can happen,” he replies. “We didn’t think Russia would be stupid enough to actually invade our country and see what happened.”

He does not believe that his country will ever have normal relations with Russia again after the Russian defeat. “The Ukrainians will never forgive Russia. I just can’t see that happening. Of course there are many Russians who are against the war, but most of the Russian population supports Putin.” He had a discussion with two Russian friends a while ago, he says. “One of them spoke for Ukraine, the other called him a traitor. It shocked me, I can’t understand how people think like that”.

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