24th of February:
Anastacia woke up to a text message from her mother.
She immediately calls home. Stressed out she tries to form a picture of the situation. Her thoughts go to her relatives in Russia, as well as her relatives in Ukraine. Both she and her mother start crying.
Anastacia grew up in Moscow, Russia. When summer 2022 hits, she will be halfway in her master's degree at NHH. Irina is also taking her external master’s at NHH. She is also from Moscow, and is in her first year in Norway as well. They describe the last few weeks as difficult.
– It's been awful. During the first two weeks I cried a lot, Anastacia says.
Anastacia has family in both Russia and Ukraine. During the first few weeks she read a lot of news: Russian, Ukrainian and Western media, trying to keep up to date.
Part of her Ukrainian family is still in Ukraine. In light of Russia’s invasion, she believes that the relationship between the two neighbouring countries will never be the same.
– We will never be able to call them a “brother”-country anymore. And the Ukrainians’ hard feelings are understandable.
She believes the tension between the two nations has been gaining momentum since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
However, by her experiences, it mostly exists on a political level. She has several times since the invasion talked to Ukrainians in Norway without experiencing any form of hostility.
– They don't hate me personally.
Her perception is that the hatred between Ukrainians and Russians is mostly media created.
In the beginning of the invasion both Irina and Anastacia say that they were afraid of being expelled from NHH.
– There was a lot of fake news saying that the government considered withdrawing the visas of Russian students. Luckily it didn't happen, Irina says with relief.
On February 28th, four days after the invasion, vice rector at NHH Stig Tenold sent out a message to all the students at NHH.
He stated that NHH supported the Norwegian authorities' choice to condemn the invasion. At the same time, he emphasized that this was criticism against Putin and the Russian regime - not the Russian students and colleagues at the school. When this message was sent out, both students described a great reassurance.
– I felt so relieved. However NHH could have expressed their support a bit sooner. It caused me a lot of stress the first few days, Anastacia says with a nervous laughter.
Although NHH officially stated their support to both the Russian and Ukrainian students, the women felt a lot of uncertainty about how the other students would react.
– I was afraid of some kind of Russophobia, but everyone has been really supportive, Irina says.
As a response to the invasion, several countries have introduced strict economic sanctions against Russia. This has, among other things, led to a considerable drop in value of the ruble.
They both said they immediately understood the invasion would cause great consequences for their home country. Anastacia said she transferred all her money from Russia to a Norwegian bank account on the first day of the invasion. Irina, on the other hand, ran directly to the ATM machine and withdrew all her savings.
Irina’s family runs a business that imports and sells European kitchenware. After the introduction of economic sanctions, she fears for the future of the family business.
– I don't know how they are going to maintain their business. I think they will have to close in just a short time.
Last fall Anastacia received financial support from her family, when her personal economy was tight. However, after the economic sanctions she thinks that the worsened conditions will make them unable to help her in the future.
– I don't feel that I can ask them for money, because life is going to be much harder for them. Norway is really expensive, but from now it will be worse in Russia.
In this challenging time they both refer to NHH as a light in the dark.
– I went to lectures to try to get distracted from the situation - not to pretend everything was normal - but to maintain some kind of routine, Irina says.
In the future, they expect Russia to go into a time characterized by financial instability. Therefore, they both dream of being employed in Norway after their studies. They say that NHH has become a way out of the uncertain future of Russia.
They both say they are actively seeking internships at Norwegian companies, and they are taking courses in Norwegian to increase their chances of getting hired.
– I really want to get a job in Norway, Irina concludes.