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20 January 2023

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PER ASPERA AD ASTRA: THE JOURNEY OF ONE UKRAINIAN TO OXFORD UNIVERSITY

We were delighted to be able to welcome our first Ukrainian Graduate scholarship holder, Taras Prodaniuk, to St Hugh’s at the beginning of Michaelmas Term 2022. Taras is reading for his Masters in Politics Research. The scholarship scheme offers support specifically to students affected by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Taras has written an article about his journey to Oxford and life at St Hugh’s below:

Taras thinks his journey to Oxford can be explained by one Latin phrase, “Per Aspera Ad Astra.”

 Per Aspera’ or the way to Oxford

Taras was born in 2001 in a small village called Shypintsi in the smallest region in Ukraine, Chernivtsi. He finished his school studies with honors at the Chernivtsi Gymnasium №2, following which he got his first student experience at the Institute of International Relations at Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University and the Faculty of Law at Chernivtsi National University.

During his studies in Kyiv, Taras, with his university friends, founded a think tank named ADASTRA that analyzes and researches international relations and foreign policy. Describing the project Taras said, ‘In Ukraine there was a huge problem with the concentration of media attention and other think-tanks on the USA, Europe, and Russia. Because of this, awareness of other interesting regions such as Southeast Asia, Latin America, or Oceania, was minimal. So, when we established a think-tank our main aim was to study other regions that may not be as popular, but are no less important.’

Taras continued, ‘Thus, I always knew what I was going to do and what to do for a living –research. But, when the war broke out all my plans were destroyed.

‘I’ve always had obstacles in my way, and that’s normal. However, it is not normal when in the modern world people die because of the imperial ambitions of dictators who are not even worthy of being called human.

‘I always used to tell everyone who asked me before the war that I had a clear plan for the year, goals for five years and dreams for ten years. However, when the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began I did not know what to do next for the first time in my life. I felt hopeless.’

‘At one point, I was ready to give up because I thought that no one needed my expertise and all we had achieved with my team was useless. So, I reflected on starting my life in another industry from scratch. I’ve prayed hard to God to show me my path. Fortunately for me, one day I received a letter from Oxford about my successful application for the most desirable and relevant program for me — MSc in Politics Research. I took it as a message from God: “you are on the right path; keep moving.” But, I’ll be honest when I applied to the program, I had no idea that I would be able to succeed in the application selection for the most competitive university in the world.’

Taras's Bod Card

Taras’ University Bod Card

Oxford experience so far

‘First of all, I am pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of people who live in the UK, particularly in Oxford. Everyone tries to help you: from the salespeople in the store to the bus driver from the airport to Oxford, who may not see you again in this life. What’s nice is that people help me, not because I’m Ukrainian or a refugee. People won’t even ask me where I came from; they help everyone because this is the matrix of culture in this country!

‘In particular, I will mention the hospitality of St Hugh’s College, which I consider the best in Oxford. The college’s administrative team help me with everything I have questions about. I deeply appreciate that!

‘At weekends I play football with the MCR team of my college to keep fit and benefit from the social part of it. Whatever language you speak, sport erases our barriers to communication. Especially in football, when you use only mental-physical communication to understand actions of others.

‘My weekdays are very routine, as I spend most of my time in the library, I literally live in it. If someone wants to find me, they know where I am. Since my program is research based, I mainly read professional literature related to my field of academic interests and preparation for thesis writing.

‘I sincerely respect all the people who surround me here in Oxford, starting with the academic supervisor, program director, and department assistants and ending with my course-mates, they are delightful.

‘At the end of the working day, the socials of the college dilute my grey weekdays. Communicating with diverse people with unique backgrounds and, in general, sharing experiences help me to expand my knowledge boundaries. I discover for myself the traditions of other countries and peoples, their habits and cultures. This is very useful, especially when you study social sciences.

‘I would call the day of our matriculation as one of the brightest days during this time. All the fresh college students wear subfusc and we look really like Hogwarts students from Harry Potter Universe. This magical spirit is everywhere here. You really feel like the main actor in a fantasy movie.

Making the Ukrainian voice louder

‘When I signed the last papers for studying in Oxford, I decided: I would Ukrainianize all the people I meet along the way. I will tell you who Ukrainians are, what a devil we are fighting against, and why we will win this war.’

Recently, Taras has prepared a policy paper on the EU’s mission to reconstruct Ukraine for the Institute of International Affairs in Prague, a Czech think-tank. This Institute works with the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, providing policy recommendations, and during that period, the Czech Republic held the presidency of the EU Council.ʼ

 ‘Ad Astra’ or looking to the best future

‘I sincerely hope that the war will end soon, and I can return home to my family and friends. Then I will do what I love, help my country with reconstruction and share the experience gained in Oxford.

‘One important thing for me is to express my gratitude to all who stand up for Ukraine and support my country with any assistance. Thank you so much! Be sure your help is greatly appreciated in Ukraine as well.’

Blackouts in Ukraine after Russian missiles attack

Blackouts in Ukraine after Russian missiles attack

 

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