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"It's horrible to hear air alarms when you're talking to your family on the phone"

The mathematician Leonid Dovhal (name changed) does research as a research assistant at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Why he came to Berlin, how he deals with horrifying news of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and why he always keeps his phone switched on, he reports in an interview.

How do you deal with the terrible news of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine in your everyday life?

My thoughts are with the people in Ukraine, with my family, friends. At the same time, I try to block out the news for a few hours, during work. Of course you feel the need to check the news every five minutes. But that just drags you down even more. I leave my phone on all the time in case family or friends from Ukraine call.

What do you hear on the phone?

It's terrible to hear air alarms wailing and the family running to the basement.

While everyday life in Germany goes on...

Especially before the invasion started, it seemed like some people in Germany were living in a bubble and didn't see what was happening. Of course, nobody could imagine that in Europe cities of millions would be bombed. I think we should stand together in Europe to stop Russian aggression.

You are also committed to your homeland.

In the first days of the attack, the university gave me leave. To be able to do something, I helped at the welcome centre at the main station. At first, mainly elderly people and children came. Most of them didn't speak German and felt very insecure. Some had been shot at while fleeing, others had had to leave relatives behind. Now they were alone in a foreign country with a foreign language. When you first come to Germany, you encounter many rules you don't understand, and you don't want to do anything wrong. I guided people to offers of help and translated for them.

In the meantime, you are working at the university again. How has your commitment to Ukraine changed?

I can no longer help as actively as I did at the Welcome Centre. Now I help financially: I donate to aid organisations and to friends.

Humboldt University is also committed to Ukraine. How do you experience the university's support?

After the fighting began, for example, the HU presidium helped to bring Ukrainian employees together. There are offers for psychological counselling. The Institute for Mathematics has set up scholarships for Ukrainian scientists. I helped to make such information known.

In 2018, you came to Germany from Kharkiv to continue your academic career here. What was the reason?

I wanted to gain academic experience abroad. The situation in eastern Ukraine did not play a role in my decision at the time. At that time, no one could imagine that the Russians would attack the entire Ukraine. In January, shortly before the war broke out, I visited friends in Kharkiv. Nobody expected anything like that.

How are your friends?

Many of my acquaintances have left Kharkiv. Only a few have stayed. One of them is taking care of providing food and medicine for old people. The daily bombings are terrible. People have to go to the air-raid shelters regularly, but they try to stay calm and go about their daily lives. What else are they supposed to do?

And your family?

My family had to leave Kharkiv because of the bombings. Most of them now live in Lviv, in western Ukraine. My grandfather fled to Germany. After his expulsion, he lived with me in Berlin for a few weeks. Now he is in Frankfurt am Main. He has friends there. We talk on the phone every two or three days.

The interview was conducted by Jonas Krumbein.

Sponsorship programme for students, doctoral candidates and researchers who have fled Ukraine

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) is very concerned to make it easier for the many refugee students, doctoral candidates and researchers from Ukraine to arrive in Germany. For this reason, Humboldt-Universität has set up a sponsorship programme.

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Donations can be made easily, transparently and securely via the donation platform.

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A donation can also be made by bank transfer to the HU donation account:

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Deutsche Bank PGK AG
IBAN: DE95 1007 0848 0512 6206 01

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Sponsorship program Ukraine, PSP: Z.00093.00.410100,
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