Oleksii Kocheriev thought his biggest fears in life were behind him – coming to Canada on his own at age 17 and landing an internship were among his greatest concerns – but Russia’s recent invasion of his homeland of Ukraine has brought a chilling perspective.
“This is real fear,” he said. “Now I’m fearing for the lives of my family.”
Worrying is something the third-year financial modelling (statistical and actuarial sciences) student has become “used to,” he said, while studying for exams and working at his internship at Canada Life.
Kocheriev has been checking in with his parents many times a day since first alerting them that their country was under attack a week ago.
After receiving alarming messages from his friends in Ukraine, he called his mother.
“She didn’t believe me at first,” he said, “but 10 minutes into our conversation, we both could hear the explosions in the background.” His mother woke his father, who also was incredulous, until he too heard the blasts.
His parents have since left their home in Kyiv, staying with relatives and in bomb shelters when necessary.
Sense of pride
“It’s hard to live in times when, ‘How are you?’ means more than, ‘I love you,’” Kocheriev said. Yet, he has never felt more proud as a Ukrainian.
“I’m incredibly proud of our military,” he said. “The Ukrainian army is showing courage we haven’t seen since the second world war.”
“Civilians are showing so much courage, as well, picking up rifles and defending their country. They’re stopping Russian tanks; they’re giving their lives. Ukraine is a really small country holding the third largest military in the world. That is unbelievable.”
He is also touched by the bravery of his relatives and parents, who project a sense of calm and normalcy when he talks to them on the phone.
“For me, it is tough, because I am away from them, and it can be unreal when I speak with them. Obviously, they are shocked. They were forced to leave their home for peace and safety, but when I talk to them, they are calm and fine. They are not fighting, but in my opinion, they are heroes in that way.”
Western International has been reaching out to students from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, offering support and providing resources for counselling, crisis support and help for those who may be outside Canada. The university is also preparing and anticipating how it may assist students in the coming weeks with practical needs such as finances and housing.
The Western Ukrainian Students’ Association is hosting a gathering at the Spoke this Sunday, March 6 from 4-6 p.m.
Londoners have also gathered in peaceful demonstrations to show their support for Ukraine.
Kocheriev attended the first rally last Thursday. “It felt good to be there, but at the same time, we all knew Kyiv would be bombed that night. You could feel that in the air.”
Last weekend, many Ukrainian-Canadians and others across the province organized fundraising efforts from bake sales to larger scale initiatives, and the federal government offered to match individual contributions to the Canadian Red Cross.
“From what I hear from my parents, the work of the Red Cross is really important right now,” Kocheriev said. “People are lacking basic necessities.”
Longing for peace
As Ukraine seeks to join the European Union, Kocheriev is hopeful that move may help deliver what his country wants most.
“Even though it seems like we are holding the Russian army and winning the war, the message is clear from my family, myself and other Ukrainians: what we want and desperately need is peace.”
“People are dying, and this shouldn’t be happening in the 21st century. Everyone in Ukraine is praying for peace. Just like when we woke up and war had started, we are hoping one night we will go to bed, wake up and hear it has stopped.”
Students can access crisis support through Western Health and Wellness services at any time or day, and through Reach Out at 519-433-2023 or Good2Talk at 1-866-925-5454. International students may also access support by contacting Western International at 519-611-2111 ext. 89309 or email@example.com.
Employees can find support through LifeWorks anytime at 1-844-880-9142.