These Russian international students squeezed by sanctions but stand in solidarity with Ukraine

As financial sanctions imposed on Russia by Western countries topple the country's economy, Russian international students in London, Ont., are left without sufficient funds. 

'Everyday you feel like you're in a nightmare that you're trying to wake up from,' students say

Alexandra Troitskaya (left) is a student at Fanshawe College and Yana Kuzmenko (right) is a Western University graduate in London, Ont. Both been impacted by the sanctions imposed on Russia. (Submitted)

Russian international students attending post-secondary schools in Canada are scrambling to make ends meet as they watch financial sanctions topple their country's economy. At the same time, they're torn watching a war they say is not right. 

Alexandra Troitskaya, pursuing a degree in biotechnology at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., is worried she might not be able to pay her tuition for next year. She also worries her parents, who work for an international company, will soon lose their jobs. 

"My parents financially supported me with my tuition and all the basic needs in Canada, but now I'm cut off from their funds and they're no longer able to support me because of the sanctions," she said. 

"It's breaking my heart because not only can I not access financial aid from my parents but I can't even access them."

Yana Kuzmenko, a Western University graduate, said that she was lucky to withdraw some money before the Russian currency plummeted.

"The financial situation is quite difficult," she said. "It's very hard to send money from Russia into other countries, and there are also limits on foreign currency even for everyday folks." 

Sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine has left Russian banks cut off from the rest of the world. University and college students, many of whom are financially dependent on their families, are unable to access their bank accounts or get money transfers from their relatives back home.

Visa and MasterCard have also announced the suspension of operations in Russia. As a result of the sanctions and companies withdrawing from the country, the Russian ruble is at an all time low. 

"I left Russia 9 years ago to escape these kinds of situations, and now everyday you feel like you're in a nightmare that you're trying to wake up from," said Kuzmenko. 

Distressed families back home 

Troitskaya's said there's limited information coming from Russia about Ukraine's invasion and those who are protesting and speaking out against the war are being fined and arrested.

"When you start a war from a country that represents so many citizens, I think we all have a right to voice our opinions and be able to influence the political decisions," she said. 

For Kuzmenko, Ukraine isn't just a country, it's a country where she has friends and family stuck in a dangerous and unpredictable situation.  

"Everyday I text my Ukrainian friends to see if they're still alive, and I also have to see if my Russian friends have been detained or not, so it's honestly been a disaster," she said. 

Solidarity with Ukraine

Both Troitskaya and Kuzmenko strongly condemn this war, and say that anyone supporting it does not represent the views of all Russians. 

The two also fear getting hateful messages and being ousted from communities because of the actions of their country of origin, a situation that they play no role in. 

"We receive hate in some way or another, some of our friends have turned away from us. I'm against war and I don't think this is justified in any way," Kuzmenko said. 

"When you're pursuing a medical career to save human lives and people of the country you were born in just kill people, instead of solving the problem, it's heartbreaking," said Troitskaya.

Like other schools across Canada, Western and Fanshawe are providing supports to students affected such as financial aid to help with tuition, referrals for emergency bursaries, funding for living expenses, and counselling sessions. 

"No one deserves to lose their life over a political conflict, I support Ukrainian people and I feel for them. I'm sorry that my country is doing this to them," Troitskaya said. 

"Russia is not Putin, Russia is not war, we are much more more than that," Kuzmenko added.