Ukrainian lawyer Juliia Yakushehenko was 2 months away from defending her PhD law dissertation assisted reproductive technologies. She had started teaching civil law in February, weeks before Russia’s military invaded Ukraine Feb. 24th, 2022, and began the war. She was forced to flee her beloved Ukraine. The war changed everything. Now she has found a temporary home at MRU's Student House. She agreed to answer a few questions, after arriving in Vilnius last month (March 2022).
-When did you first come to Vilnius?
I was a PhD exchange student at Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) last year. I came at the end of August 2021 for 5 months. I went back to Sumy, Ukraine in January. Sumy is located about 50 km from the Russian border. Then the War started. I decided to leave Ukraine. A bomb fell on my University, so it was not possible to stay. My Lithuanian roomate’s parents helped me. I traveled across Ukraine and then to Poland. When I reached Warsaw, my roomate’s parents picked me up and we returned by car to Vilnius. Lithuanians are incredible, amazing people. You are so welcoming. I do believe that everything will be ok. We, Ukrainians, are optimists.
-What did you know about Vilnius before coming here?
Not that much. I didn't expect anything. I knew that it was a small country in Europe and that Vilnius is the capital. But, from the moment when I first arrived, I felt at home in Vilnius. When you speak Russian, many older Lithuanians understand you, so language is not a problem. With the younger Lithuanians I can converse in English. I really like Vilnius. It's a feeling that you are at home. I like the culture and the cuisine here – for me is so similiar to Ukrainian food.
-You have been here a month after the War started. Do you keep in touch with relatives in Ukraine?
-Yes, my parents are in a village near the Russian border. They have mobile phones. I try to call and talk with them daily. We have many relatives in Russia, but they don't inquire about how we are doing. You know, I am still confused. More than a month has passed since the start of the War and I still can not believe that it is happening. I can’t believe that a war is going on in my country.
-Have you had a chance to study Lithuanian language?
Yes, I have begun Lithuanian language courses. I had started learning Lithuanian as an exchange student at MRU. Now I have begun taking lessons once a week. Lithuanian, in my opinion, is a very beautiful language. Recently I was with friends and I heard this young man speaking Lithuanian and it was music to my ears. I just kept listening and thinking what an amazingly beautiful language!
-You have been working on your PhD in Ukraine. Can you describe your research topic?
I was just 2 months from defending my doctoral thesis dealing with surrogate mothers. The issue is very controversial in Ukraine. Legislation in my country allows it. It involves ethical, legal, medical issues. About 80% of the people adopting Ukrainian children are foreigners. At first, you judge the women who are being paid to give birth to a child that others will raise, but it is not so simple. Many of the Ukrainian mothers giving birth desperately need the money for medicine, and sometimes to overcome cancer or other illnesses. I was investigating this issue after my research supervisor suggested I look at it more closely. The topic seemed interesting and I am close to finishing my dissertation.
-What are your plans for your future?
You know, as I mentioned, it is hard for me to believe the war has started and is still going on. Now, I do not plan. Now, I just live. I am in a safe place and a safe country - Lithuania. For that I am grateful to all Lithuanians. So many have helped me and are helping Ukraine.