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Russian student at Masaryk: I’m still in shock from invasion

About 330 students from Russia are enrolled at Masaryk University. One of them is Aleksandra Kokoreva from St. Petersburg, who is in her second semester at the Faculty of Social Studies, where she studies social anthropology. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a strong impact on her.

Aleksandra Kokoreva is in her second semester at the Faculty of Social Studies, where she studies social anthropology.

How did you react when you first found out that Russia attacked Ukraine?
When I woke up early on Thursday morning, I was in complete shock, and it took me several hours to get out of bed. I was completely paralysed. I just watched what was happening, and I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t expect it to actually happen. No one I know did. I don’t understand it at all, and I am terribly sad about it. Like most Russians, I do not approve of the invasion, as a Russian I am deeply ashamed of it, and I feel guilty for something I didn’t do.

How have your parents reacted to the situation?
Like me – they are in shock, and they don’t understand it. They also don’t approve of it, but they are frightened. They are worried about how the situation might escalate and about losing their jobs due to the economic situation. Nothing compares to the horrible tragedy suffered by people in Ukraine. But Russians are in a tragic situation, too. I’m afraid that because of the sanctions and problems with visas I won’t see my friends and family for a long time. And it’s all because of a president that we can’t freely elect.

What about friends in Russia that are your age?
My friends were already angry at the current regime before all this. And now they are even angrier. Some even went to protest, which is admirable. It is very dangerous; you can easily wind up in jail or the hospital. None of us young people want Putin as our president. For our entire lives, we’ve felt powerless that our voices mean nothing.

In reaction to the invasion, Ukrainian flags almost immediately began to appear on buildings in Brno, including at MU and the faculty where you study. Has this affected you?
No, just the opposite. I am very glad for this enormous outpouring of support, and I totally understand it. I was also very happy that Czech students from our faculty began collecting money right away and that in the faculty’s atrium anyone can pick up a Ukrainian ribbon. On Thursday I made a donation, and I wear a ribbon on my backpack. I have also donated material goods for Ukrainian refugees through a collection organized by the Russian community in Brno. Russians in Brno are organizing other activities to help Ukraine. They are trying to help wherever they can.

During the last week, three demonstrations have been held in Brno. Did you take part in any of them?
Yes, in the biggest one, which was on Sunday on Dominikánské Square. There were thousands of people. I didn’t expect such a turnout. And I’m awestruck at how many demonstrations have been held all over the world and that hundreds of people came out to protest. I want to believe that the whole world’s strong reaction will finally force Putin to stop and that the war will end soon.

Do you think the sanctions will force him to stop?
Every day I hope that the sanctions will force him to back down. I truly wish that the war will end as soon as possible. It’s affected me so much that I can’t concentrate on anything, not even on lectures at school. I feel really frustrated and powerless.

Have you, as a Russian speaker, encountered any negative reactions from people here in the Czech Republic?
No. Fortunately not. Not yet. I wouldn’t even expect it at the university. My Czech classmates know my opinion about the current Russian regime, and they support me. But I have heard about negative reactions. I might have expected them in part, so I’m not surprised. I really wish that people wouldn’t judge each other based on nationality though. A lot of Russians, especially the ones that live here, are firmly against the war and Putin’s dictatorship. Unfortunately, Russians faced prejudice long before the war in Ukraine. For example, it has happened to me a few times that when I told someone that I was from Russia the response was several seconds of awkward silence. Reactions like that always make me sad.

You are in your second semester at Masaryk University. Did you decide to study abroad because you don’t agree with the regime?
Partly. For many Russian students like me studying abroad is a way to escape from the situation at home and the discontent. But it all was kind of random – I found myself in a situation where I felt lost and didn’t know what to do. About three years ago, I finished my studies of philology at St. Petersburg University, and then I did various freelance work and volunteer activities. But I wasn’t very happy with my life, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then I happened across a video by a Russian YouTuber who studies in Prague. I was intrigued. I began looking into Czech universities. I immediately liked Masaryk University and the programmes offered at the Faculty of Social Studies, so I applied. I didn’t think I’d get in because the entrance exam was in Czech, so I didn’t even tell my parents. I started learning Czech about four months before the exam, by myself, without any language course. In the end, I passed.

You are in your second semester in the Czech Republic. How do you like it at Masaryk University?
I have a bit of a problem with Czech. I don’t fully understand everything, and I’m afraid to speak, so it’s a little difficult to fit in with my Czech classmates. But it’s slowly getting better. I also love the international community that lives here. It’s wonderful. The teachers are also great and helpful. They are always asking if I need help with anything. It’s totally different than in Russia, where I didn’t like it at all at university and I had the feeling that the teachers were looking down on us. It’s good to know that education can be different.

MUNI HELPS UKRAINE. You can help Ukrainian students and academics by donating money to support educational and humanitarian efforts. You can make a donation through the MU Shopping Center. You can find out how much money has been collected so far on the MUNI HELPS website.