'I AM BOTH GRATEFUL AND TERRIFIED'. INTERVIEW WITH PROF. HALYNA VASYLEVSKA

In March 2022, the Polish-Ukrainian scientific programme organised by the University of Gdańsk was launched. Scientists from our university were able to invite researchers from Ukraine for joint research. 

The UG International Cooperation Office asked our guests about their experiences during this programme. Each of the twelve respondents rated their stay here as very good, and the best aspects of it included moral support and financial and psychological assistance. We talk to prof. Halyna Vasylevska from the West Ukrainian National University in Ternopil about what exactly the stay of a Ukrainian scientist at the University of Gdańsk is like.

Marcel Jakubowski: - How did you come to our University?

- Prof. Halyna Vasylevska: I am a lecturer at the Western Ukrainian National University in Ternopil. For years our institution has been cooperating with the University of Gdańsk. I've often come here for conferences or internships, and we've also received our colleagues from the University of Gdańsk there. When the war started, I received an invitation from the Faculty of Economics and came to Gdańsk with my daughter. It wasn't an easy decision, but it was hard for us to endure those frequent alarms at night when we had to sleep in our clothes, have our most important things already packed at hand and always remember where our shoes were. Here I feel at home. Poland is a very nice country, full of good people. 

- You are here as part of a programme at the University of Gdańsk. What are your responsibilities?

- I deal with taxation and fiscal policy myself. Before the war, I wrote my habilitation thesis on this subject, but now I have decided that I need to broaden my field of study. We've been at war for over 80 days, and the economy has to work somehow, so I adapt my work to current realities. With colleagues from UG, we are doing research on the situation after the covid - how students are coping with the situation. Everyone is writing their part. We don't have the results yet, but I hope they will be favourable.

- So you have acclimatised quite well? 

- It's not the first time I've been here and I feel very good here, but there is still a war in Ukraine. There is still a lot of nervousness and anxiety, e.g. my daughter keeps waking up when she hears the ambulance signal outside the window. We have been in Poland for two months now, but these experiences are still in us.

Ternopil is located in the western part of Ukraine about 120 km from Lviv

Ternopil is located in the western part of Ukraine about 120 km from Lviv

- Do you still teach at your home university?

- Yes, but remotely. Some of my colleagues are in the army or territorial defence, so they cannot always teach. I often have to replace someone and I also have my own subjects. In general, everything now takes place remotely at my university. We got the Starlink system from Elon Musk, so we have no connection problems. Other companies like zoom have ensured we have no restrictions for the duration of the meeting. In terms of difficulties, there are alarms during classes that signal students to take cover. During the pandemic it was difficult to encourage them to attend class, they often didn't get up on time or were late. Now, during the war, I see on the webcams that some people sit with their whole family because they want to hear about something other than the attack on towns and villages or the killing of people, although we talk about that too. There are no students on the grounds of our university and in the dormitories for the time being because there are volunteers who are doing training in medicine, among other things.

- Do men also take part in the classes? Do they have other responsibilities?

- In Ukraine, students start their studies earlier than in Poland. This means that in the first year, we have boys aged 16-17 who are not yet required to do military service. As a rule, men join from home. Our professors who are in the army, when they have time, also connect to lectures. It is a surprise for students to see their professor dressed in a military uniform.

- Do you have any plans for the near future?

- I always have plans, but I have learned not to plan for the long term. The war and covid don't really allow for stability. Everything changes quickly and now I am trying to present this aspect in the article I mentioned. 

- What has helped you the most from the University of Gdańsk? 

- I am both grateful and terrified because as an economist, I understand that Poland is not a very rich country. Your country has taken in the largest number of refugees from Ukraine, generally women with children who need state care, extra payments, health care and education for their children. Today in Gdańsk, you can hear the Ukrainian language at every turn. It is difficult to accept strangers with whom you share your flat, clothes and food. This situation is demanding not only for us Ukrainians but also for those people who take us in. Nobody specifically forced us to come to Poland. Everyone chose their own direction, so you can see how Ukrainians trust Poles and feel calm and safe here.

- What do you miss the most?

- My family is still at home - my sister with her husband and son. We can connect through the internet, but there is still so much anxiety. We hear what is happening. There are times when I talk to my friends and the next day they are gone. It is very difficult. I would probably miss the same at home, but sometimes I feel that if I went back I could help them more. I can't say that I miss anything in particular, I'm just far from home, I don't know when this whole situation will end and what will happen tomorrow. I don't know how to solve all this to make it all right. My daughter is a first-year student, she had dreams and plans and now everything has turned upside down and she has to make very difficult decisions.

A day-care centre for Ukrainian children was established at UG. 

A day-care centre for Ukrainian children was established at UG.

- Apart from the help you receive here, you also help at the University of Gdańsk Community Centre.

- Yes, this is a very good initiative. It's mainly women and children who have come to Poland, many of whom lost their homes in the bombings. This community centre is a good place not only for children but also for those women. Whenever a mother comes, we offer coffee or tea, talk about their situation and ask if we can help in any way.

Finally, I would like to thank all the Poles who welcome the Ukrainians here, who look after them and who help them adapt to their new conditions of stay. My daughter and I would like to thank the Rector of the University of Gdańsk, prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski, and all the staff of the University of Gdańsk for their very good organisation of support and help for the Ukrainians, especially for the scientists and the Ukrainian students. It is also a pleasure to thank the Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry, dr hab. Beata Grobelna, prof. UG, for hosting Ukrainian children at her Faculty. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank my friends - the Dean of the Faculty of Economics, dr hab. Monika Bąk, prof. UG, the Vice Dean for Students and Education, dr Tomasz Gutowski with his family and dr Olga Dębicka with her family for giving me the opportunity to take part in scientific conferences, for the wonderful organisation of the internship process and their kind reception and care during quite a difficult time. 

- Thank you for the interview.

- Thank you.

Marcel Jakubowski / Press Office UG