University College London student Valentina Butenko has been in Ukraine for the last few weeks, joining the Ukrainian Women’s Guard.
24 February 2022
A British-Ukrainian student in Kyiv – who woke to the sound of explosions on Thursday morning – is not planning to leave the Ukrainian capital as she wishes to aid the military response to the Russian invasion.
Valentina Butenko is studying politics at University College London but returned to Ukraine a few weeks ago to offer to help with the security crisis there.
The 19-year-old has joined the Ukrainian Women’s Guard, which offers women training in self-defence, shooting and first aid amongst other military skills, and hopes to utilise these following Russia’s bombardment on Thursday.
“I don’t think anyone quite was preparing for anything on this scale,” Ms Butenko told the PA news agency.
“It’s terrifying… I feel angry, I feel scared, but I also feel very impassioned to go out and help Ukraine right now and stand by my country.
“I am not keen to leave Kyiv, I would like to contribute to the military effort, whether that’s medically or by sheltering people.”
Ms Butenko, who has a British mother but was raised in Ukraine, is in Kyiv with her father and said she would consider leaving the country if her family came under serious threat.
“But right now I’m very focused on trying to provide whatever aid I can to Ukraine, because panic and fear are some of the most powerful weapons that Russia has used against its own people, and I don’t believe they have a right to use them against our people,” she said.
On the “urban warfare” training she received, which included handling a rifle, Ms Butenko said: “It’s hard to predict or even imagine a case in which those skills can be used.
“But I think I came to a basic understanding, you know, I need to be prepared… I don’t know how, ultimately, I will have to step in and protect Ukraine, but I need to be prepared for any situation.
“That’s very much the spirit of a lot of young people here right now.”
Ms Butenko said the atmosphere in Kyiv has “completely changed” over the past 24 hours.
She said she saw debris from apparent blasts in Kyiv when she travelled into its centre on Thursday, and shared a video with PA of roads out of the city blocked with traffic as many decided to flee the capital.
“We went from kind of going to bed as usual, with that slight worry… to waking up to the sounds of missiles and explosions,” she said.
“The atmosphere has completely changed, from this attempt at keeping calm while understanding that there is a threat to a full-scale mobilization to protect our families… we need to protect our city.”
The student called on the UK to show “real commitment” to the values of democracy and freedom by sanctioning Russia and supporting the Ukrainian military.
“When I came to the UK, one of the things I really loved about that country is the real commitment to these democratic values and freedom,” Ms Butenko said.
“When you live in a country where these values haven’t always historically been respected, there’s something beautiful in how readily available these values are in British society.
“What I would ask the UK Parliament and Boris Johnson is that you really, really show that these values are universal – because they don’t mean anything if they aren’t applied universally.
“Russian money that exists in London needs to be rooted out, we need to apply sanctions so the cost of this war is too high for Russia, and Ukraine needs military aid – we need supplies, we need financing, anything the UK can provide.”