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Cambridge4Ukraine co-founder: ‘I phone my parents every day... each time I wonder whether it will be the last time’

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The day after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February, a group of Ukrainians in Cambridge set up a campaign called Cambridge4Ukraine to offer solidarity and support. Alexandra Buxton speak to one of its co-founders.

Anatolii Pavlovkyi. Picture: Mark Box (56015524)
Anatolii Pavlovkyi. Picture: Mark Box (56015524)

He might be living and working in Cambridge, but Anatolii Pavloskyi’s thoughts are 1,500 miles away, with family and friends in his homeland of Ukraine.

“I phone my parents every single day. We have a chat, we try to be as normal as we can, and I tell them I love them,” he says.

“When I say goodbye, I wonder whether that was my last conversation with them. They live near Kyiv and the Russians are not far away. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. It’s just me and I’m not there with them.”

Anatolii, 36, is an IT engineer working for an international enterprise. His specialism is cloud technology and automation. He has lived in Cambridge ever since 2013 with an 18-month gap when he had to return to Kyiv due to visa regulations which permit UK stays of just five years.

The violent conflict surging through Ukraine is devastating for Anatolii and other Ukrainians far from home as well as for those still in the country.

“I actually can’t let myself think about it too much because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to function. I tell myself I’ll deal with my emotions sometime in the future,” he says.

Ukraine protest King's College . Picture: Keith Heppell. (55261149)
Ukraine protest King's College . Picture: Keith Heppell. (55261149)

The day after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Anatolii and fellow members of the Cambridge University Ukrainian Society - which is also open to members beyond the university - immediately put a campaign together.

Cambridge4Ukraine is active on many fronts, from protesting to event organising to matching refugees to hosts, and now has its own website.

“We’re pouring our energy into resisting the war, raising awareness of what is happening and what is at stake, not just for Ukraine but for the rest of Europe, and preparing to welcome refugees,” says Anatolii.

Like many Ukrainians from his generation, Anatolii speaks almost faultless English. In Ukraine children begin English lessons at the age of seven or so.

“I enjoyed English lessons right from the start,” he says. “I loved the stories of Robin Hood and I was a huge Doctor Who fan.”

As a teenager Anatolii became fascinated by computers.

“At school it became obvious in class that I knew much more than the teacher,” he says. “Luckily the teacher was happy to step aside and let me take the class.”

He studied computer science at the National Technical University of Ukraine, Kiev Polytechnic Institute, and quickly found an excellent job first with an international company in Kyiv and more recently with a company based in London.

“I’m a strong believer in co-operation and working in teams. The company I’m currently working for has a very open culture. We support each other,” he says. “The team I’m part of has people from all over the world.”

Anatolii is keen to champion Ukraine’s rich and diverse culture. Among his many enthusiasms are music - especially Odyn V Kanoe, ONUKA, Okean Elzy - and wine.

Ukraine protest King's College . Picture: Keith Heppell. (55166261)
Ukraine protest King's College . Picture: Keith Heppell. (55166261)

“Ukraine produces a wide variety of wines. I’d like to introduce the British market to them,” he says.

Like all of us, Anatolii is watching news reports of cities being shelled and people trapped in underground shelters. To see millions of your own people flee their homes and become refugees is unbelievably hard. But he is determined to remain positive.

“Ukrainians have a huge amount to offer,” says Anatolii. “Those coming to the UK just need to be given the right opportunities and will make a great contribution to life here. But first, the visa system needs to be made simpler.”

There are no words to adequately describe the horror of the war in Anatolii’s home country. However, Ukrainians knew it was coming.

“For people outside Ukraine, the Russian invasion came as a sudden shock. But Ukraine had already been at war for eight years,” he says.

“The world didn’t pay much attention to what was happening all that time. And there’s a danger now that people’s attention will start to shift. We must keep the focus on what is most probably the worst conflict in Europe since the Second World War.”

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