“No one could believe what was happening,”: Ukrainian student takes shelter in Sherbrooke

By Gordon Lambie
“No one could believe what was happening,”:  Ukrainian student takes shelter in Sherbrooke
Viktoriia Bavykina (middle) with Université de Sherbrooke professor Benoît Laurent (left) and his partner Justin Shevelow (Photo : Gordon Lambie)

Educational internships are meant to be significant, life-changing programs, but it’s fair to say that Viktoriia Bavykina had no idea, when she applied, what a difference it would make to come study with Benoît Laurent at the Université de Sherbrooke.

Having worked with the professor as recently as this past fall, Bavykina now finds herself sheltered at his family home after having fled the ongoing invasion of her home country of Ukraine.

According to Laurent, the two first met through a program aimed at connecting top international students with major research initiatives, but the two stayed in touch and continued to work together as she returned to the university in Kyiv to finish her bachelor’s degree.

When the invasion began on Feb. 24, Bavykina said that she was awoken in her residence room by the sound of sirens at 5 a.m.
“No one could believe what was happening,” she said, sharing that although there had been concern about the possibility of an invasion over the weeks leading up to that day, none of the students really believed that such a major and sudden change was coming so soon.

Along with hundreds of other students she made her way to the building’s basement to wait out the uncertainty.

“We only had two bunkers for 20 student residences, so it was not good,” she said, noting that the basement was not equipped or designed to serve a large group of people sheltering from an attack.

When it became clear that there was no immediate danger, the students started to make their ways home, with Bavykina opting to take what is normally a seven-hour train ride to the city of Mykolaiv in the south of the country. As a result of the invasion, however, the train stations were shut down and passengers were dropped off in the middle of the countryside.

“Because it was the first day, everyone was scared to cross the country,” she recalled, explaining that she and some others were eventually able to find a driver who would take them the rest of the way. “He was going to go fight the next day, so he was not concerned about driving another three hours to a city he had never been to.”

The trip ended up taking the better part of a day, but she did eventually make it to Mykolaiv and her family home.

“I had a feeling of safety because I was with my family, but soon we were hearing almost every day that there were Russian troops coming our way from Kherson,” she said.
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