Helping fellow Ukrainians from Bergen

Daniil Butenko til venstre. Foto: Ukrainian Student Union

War is raging in Europe. For many, it might seem distant and hard to understand. For others, the realities of war seem overwhelming and propose a direct threat to someone they care about. The Ukrainian PhD-candidate and member of the Ukrainian Student Union in Bergen, Daniil Butenko, shares his thoughts and experiences. 

Daniil Butenko has a background from general medicine and psychiatry. He aspired to work with mental health research, and in 2019 he immigrated to Norway to become a PhD fellow affiliated with Nordlandssykehuset HF, Helse Bergen HF and The University of Bergen (UiB).

Three weeks ago, his home country was invaded by Russia.

– I anticipated Russia to invade Ukraine. I thought I was prepared for this mentally, but I was fooling myself – a civilian cannot be prepared for a war. I woke up on Thursday, 24th of February to discover a number of missed calls from my mother and a text from her, saying that the war has started.

“Not a free man but an automaton”

After waking up to these messages, Butenko frantically opened the news. Reports about Russian treacherous attacks met him, and he quickly called his mother.

– She and my sister were in despair – their ordinary life, home and hopes were ruined. During the upcoming days, I found myself to be paralyzed with an overwhelming grip of fear for them, my father, friends and our homeland.

While it is a very complex matter, Butenko was asked about his thoughts on the causes of the current situation. He explicitly points out that it is impossible for him to provide a rational and objective explanation of the causes and goals of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

– Subjectively I see this as a horrendous crescendo of the long and bloody history of relations between Ukraine and Russia, affected and induced to a varying degree by such factors as current Russian government, their state economy, ideology, and propaganda.

Butenko then states that the following quote from Erich Fromm’s book Escape from Freedom may shed some light on the societal and psychological factors that have affected the war.

“…modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton”.

Contributing through the Ukrainian Student Union in Bergen

Butenko, along with fellow Ukrainian students, started Ukrainian Student Union in Bergen as a response to the ongoing crisis. The organisation aims to spread information about both the Ukrainian people and the country, culture and history of Ukraine in Norway. They have contributed to the University of Bergen’s effort in this time of crisis.

– It all started with the rector of the University in Bergen gathering Ukrainian students and employees to express support and assess our needs the day after the invasion had started.

Butenko shares that they all were distressed, and felt a need to help the victims of the invasion.

– I guess all of us felt to some degree guilt and shame for being on the peaceful land, while having our families and friends going through the toughest, inhumane challenge of their lives.

Mobilizing support for those back home, and those who got away

Since then, the organization has mobilized to help Ukrainians who are still back home.

– We have made and advertised a list of international humanitarian organizations present in both Ukraine and Norway, which initiated fundraising for the needs of Ukraine. We joined an initiative that aimed to collect and deliver goods to Ukraine. We are also participating in meetings with different student organizations, encouraging and advising them on how to organize their efforts to help Ukraine.

The organization has also started contributing to help people arriving in Bergen as refugees. They’ve collected clothes for arriving refugees, and are planning to arrange social events to raise awareness about Ukrainian culture and history.

– Perhaps most importantly, we have started recruiting volunteers who are willing to help coming refugees to adapt and integrate into the Norwegian society.

Support from the University

Walking around campus at night, one can not help but notice the colours of the Ukrainian flag lighting up the University Museum.

– We are most pleased and grateful for all the attention, support and initiatives that are coming from both UiB’s administration and students. This is personally heart-warming and societally crucial, as these efforts from the academy are vital for resolving the continuously expanding humanitarian crisis.

How to help?

Undoubtedly, USU continues to help their countrymen and sheds light on how students can help. This includes staying updated and spreading the word about fundraising campaigns. Butenko also emphasises the Student Parliaments potential role in developing “return to education” programs for students who have been educated in Ukraine up until now.

– We believe that there will be a demand for help to refugees coming to Bergen. Perhaps, psychology students are most equipped to contribute to the adaptation and integration of this poor folk, who suddenly lost everything but their lives.