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As international students, international affairs are personal

In just three weeks, a lot has changed.

The Russian army has invaded Ukraine. Governments, businesses, and citizens worldwide have condemned it. A new war is causing senseless human suffering, and the world suddenly feels on edge. 

As an international student at KTH, I have friends and classmates from all over the world, including places like Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and the Baltic countries. Despite Sweden’s ostensible geographic distance from Ukraine and its tendency to avoid political conflict, the magnitude of recent events has reverberated through our community too. 

It’s made a lot of other topics I could or would usually write about feel incredibly small. So instead, I’m sharing some recent realisations and observations on the realities of being an international student in Sweden.

Global events are an integral part of international student life. 

I’ve become a more conscious global citizen by living in Sweden. I follow international news, discuss with international friends, and gain pieces of historical, geographical, and cultural context along the way. This contrasts with what I’ve experienced living in the US, which for reasons related to its size, main dominant language, common culture, and distance, generally lacks a reciprocal mainstream understanding of European affairs, much less other international ones. 

Since the Russian army’s invasion of Ukraine, I’ve been encouraged by the response of the EU, Sweden as the country I currently call home, and by what I’ve observed in my peers and local community.

Like many governments around the world, the Swedish government issued a statement to make clear that it “condemns in the strongest terms Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.” The newly-elected Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson gave a speech a week later to describe the Swedish Government’s actions across three areas: “sanctions against Russia, support to Ukraine and strengthening Sweden”. Although Sweden isn’t currently as involved as closer neighbour states to Ukraine, it is also receiving refugees and the Migration Board continues preparations to house around 30,000 refugees in coming months. I’ve been able to donate to Swedish humanitarian efforts for Ukraine, which is possible through several organisations working to provide basic supplies and shelter, medical aid, and media support. 

In Stockholm, there’s some visible evidence of solidarity. Ukrainian flags have been raised around Stockholm City Hall; Sergels torg has been illuminated in blue and yellow. Demonstrations have been occurring outside the Russian embassy and around the city, with people from Russia, Ukraine, Sweden, and countries around the world protesting together against the war. Organisations and public figures have denounced the war, like Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has protested and used social media to condemn Russia’s attacks against Ukraine.

At KTH, President Sigbritt Karlsson issued a brief statement, reflecting on the “two faces of technology” – as an enabling force for Russia’s attack on Ukraine, yet also as something that makes possible the organisation of resistance, enforcement of sanctions, and media transparency. THS, the KTH student union, sent students a statement in line with the stance of the Swedish National Union of Students, in support of Ukraine. Meanwhile, I’ve learned from friends and organisations on social media, shared relevant content, and protested in support of Ukraine. 

In my personal life, I’m not being harmed directly by this conflict, but I know people who are, which is one part of what compels me to stay informed and do what I can.

Given the nature of my position and responsibilities as a student ambassador for KTH on this platform, I deliver just these observations of the environment around me and my personal experience. I can say that I’m proud of how the world has come together; it has given me renewed hope in the leaders and politics of my own country, as well as the ability of nations throughout the world – including Sweden – to stand together against injustice.

Although we will continue to share about lighter themes related to Stockholm, KTH, student life, and sustainability on this channel, I wanted to make it known that behind the scenes, global events are always very much in mind and that Sweden, Stockholm, and our community are still standing in solidarity with Ukraine.

 // Claire