Studying in Hamburg, war at home

A conversation with the Ukrainian MLB students Mariia, Andrianna, Roman, Vitaliy and Evgeniya about family, war, and home.

Education & Study |

It's been eight years since Russian forces invaded Ukraine. On February 24, 2022, a full-scale invasion and a war began in Ukraine began, displacing millions of its people. Many have left their cities and their country to find refuge in new places, whilst many others stayed on at the front lines.

We spoke to Mariia, Andrianna, Roman, Vitaliy and Evgeniya, five students from the MLB class of 2022/23 who came to Hamburg from Ukraine in August 2022.

We wanted to know what it feels like to be so far away from family and friends during this time, how they find Hamburg and what differences there are between Germany and Ukraine. Sophia, their classmate, and MLB Class representative spoke to them in the Moot Court of the Bucerius Law School.

Why Hamburg, why Bucerius Law School?

The students had very different reasons for coming to Hamburg, however for all of them, the main reason for coming was the chance to participate in the Bucerius Master of Law and Business Program and its interdisciplinary courses in Law and Business.

Roman was an exchange student in Germany 15 years ago and his former host brother, a Bucerius Law School alumnus, wrote to him after the Russian attack on Ukraine. This was the trigger that motivated Roman to apply to Bucerius.

Vitaliyalso had a connection to the German-speaking world. He spent a semester in Vienna as an Erasmus student and heard about Bucerius Law School through the Vis Moot and Prof. Stefan Kroll, director of the Center for International Dispute Resolution.

Although Bucerius Law School comes first, everyone loves living in Hamburg. Evgeniya says: “I love Hamburg! Hamburg is like a man, and I'm in love.". The green spaces, the water, the culture, and architecture of the city, all of these things appeal to her. “And so many different people living in one city – both a challenge and an opportunity for new things!”.

When war breaks out at home...

The war in Ukraine means not only daily violence and loss of life, for many Ukrainians it also raises questions of identity. Being born in Sevastopol in Crimea, a city with the Russian fleet and therefore strong expansion of the Russian presence even before 2014, Mariia does not communicate with her family. "I'm the only one in my family who identifies as Ukrainian," says Mariia.

Her cousin even was among the students mobilized in February 2022 in occupied Donetsk to fight on the Russian side against Ukraine. This conflict has a significant meaning for Mariia and many other people from the regions with a previously strong Russian influence. Showing solidarity with Ukraine has helped her find herself and strengthen her identity.

Andrianna had to flee from the Sumy area – the region that was one of the first to meet and bravely resist the Russian invaders, not only professional soldiers stood up to defend the country, but men, townspeople, and villagers united to protect their land and their families. For her, there is no debate whether this is Putin's war or the Russians against Ukraine.

"When a Russian tank is looking at you and ready to fire (and your life can end here and now), you know it is not putin sitting there", she says. "When you are far away from such a tank, your young and beautiful friends are not dying, and a Russian missile does not destroy your house, understanding all this becomes more difficult".  

After these experiences, Andrianna has been looking at life differently – what really matters in life? “It’s family, friends, and relationships”. She stresses that geopolitical interests of countries that hesitate to openly support Ukraine and provide weapons, must be put on hold in the face of war. This is necessity for the victory of the entire civilized world to defeat Russia.

The war has not only ended dreams and goals but has also brought about great uncertainty. "The worst thing is the uncertainty – about everything, the next few minutes, days, life," says Vitaliy. Nevertheless, he is certain that Ukraine will come out of this war successfully. “We are not only fighting for our democracy, but for democracy in the EU and around the world. We are certain that we will win this war – we’re just unsure when."

...and when you are far away

In Germany, Mariia, Andrianna, Roman, Vitaliy and Evgeniya did not encounter pity, but rather solidarity. They were quite surprised at first, but above all relieved. "The worst thing is pity. Because we are not poor, we are strong Ukrainians,” says Mariia. They feel that they are perceived as such. Classmates would share positive messages, approach with meaningful questions in group chats, and stand strong with them.

However, when the students hear the news from Ukraine, it brings home the feelings of helplessness they have. “Being there, helping, that's not possible, but being sad? – that's actually not possible either, when one finds oneself in safety”, says Mariia.

Everyone shares this feeling of helplessness, uselessness, and emotional turmoil. Evgeniya describes it as being like two worlds side by side – Germany and Ukraine. Living a normal life here and seeing the opposite happening in Ukraine is the biggest challenge. She has a hard time watching the news about home every day and then dealing with the feelings that arise. “It is very emotional for everyone, dealing with the inner turmoil in everyday life. The feeling that you can't help is the biggest challenge."

The biggest difference to Ukraine

If I want to make my German friends cry, I show them our government app "Dija", says Mariia. She was particularly struck by the absence of digitization in German bureaucracy and in everyday life in Germany, especially in comparison to Ukraine, which is ahead of most Western European countries. To make up for this, Mariia suggests that Berlin could at least keep up with the nightlife in Kyiv.

Andrianna finds that many people in Germany lack a desire for professional independence. It's completely different in Ukraine, where a significant part of young and talented people in Ukraine have strived to build their own business (i.e., The Grammarly, Preply, Reface AI) and are not scared to take an entrepreneurship risk.

Evgeniya is fascinated by how the older German population lives. In Germany, it is normal for pensioners to take part in public life. This is an "inspiring example of how you can still live a full life when you are retired". In Ukraine, it is different due to the low pensions. Seeing older people in a café, a museum or when traveling is very unusual.

Ukrainians in Hamburg

Because the MLB has a very intensive schedule, there is not so much time to get involved with the Ukrainian community living in Hamburg. However, the students emphasize how important it is to see the Ukrainian flag on the street and to hear the Ukrainian language in everyday life, which gives them support and strength. Talking to other people affected by the war and its consequences but did not give up, are actively learning German, and many of them are already working in highly skilled jobs also takes some weight off their shoulders.

Vitaliy appreciates the Catholic-Ukrainian Church in Hamburg, which has a large community. The church is not only a point of contact in Hamburg, but it also provides advice and help for Ukrainians and is very helpful if you want to share traditions or meet or find friends. “It especially helps you when you are reminding yourself of why you are here or when you need a sense of unity and community”.

The future in uncertain

Everyone wants to go back to Ukraine at some point. "I never expected not to live in Ukraine," says Mariia. She would like to help rebuild Ukraine at some point when that is possible. But her biggest wish is to go to Crimea and go swimming and diving there again.

Andrianna tries not to plan long-term, but to take things as they come. It is very difficult for her to accept that a secure future in Ukraine will take some time. "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon." Until then, she wants to help support her fellow Ukrainians, wherever possible.

Vitaliy also longs to be able to live in Ukraine again. This wish has been growing steadily stronger since he has been living in Western Europe. He feels that he and many Ukrainians would be committed to a strong future for the next generation of Ukrainians, for Ukraine and the world. Vitaliy believes that the possibilities and opportunities in Ukraine will be greater after the war than before, and he wants to be ready to take advantage of them.

Mariia, Andrianna, Roman, Vitaliy and Evgeniya are very grateful for the opportunity to be able to study at Bucerius Law School in the Master of Law and Business Program. Special thanks go to the Dean of the MLB Program, Prof. Christopher Bisping, the President of Bucerius, Prof. Katharina Boele-Woelki and all the employees for their support.

In the words of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy: “There are 45 million Ukrainians but only one wish: to win.


Florian Helwich, Emma Schimmel