The Jurist: How the Lives of Ukraine’s Law Students Have Changed in the Year Since Russia Invaded

February 24, 2022 will be forever etched in the minds of every Ukrainian. On that day, Russia launched a brazen attack, violating not only myriad international laws — but also the basic principles of human decency. One year on, the people of Ukraine continue to fight against Russian cruelty. And as the war drags on, the international community remains amazed by the bravery and strength of the Ukrainian people.

So many of Ukraine’s citizens have given their lives to ensure the freedom of future generations. So many continue to fight. So many risk their lives to provide critical services on the front lines. So many donate, lobby, or volunteer to rally political will and provide much-needed resources.

And so many continue to live their daily lives against the backdrop of war. I have collected the stories of three Ukrainian law students to highlight how their hopes and dreams have changed over the past year.

My first interviewee, Perets Mykhailo, is a 21-year-old law student who is serving in the armed forces while also pursuing a master’s degree in intellectual property law at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, one of Ukraine’s most prestigious schools. Since the start of the war, he has wanted to help. Initially, he organized online gaming tournaments to gather funds to support Ukraine while also keeping up with his work and legal studies remotely. He then enrolled in his university’s military department, ultimately graduating in August 2022 as a reserve officer. He is now a full-fledged member of the Ukrainian military.

“As we face the prospect of enormous sacrifices, we as Ukrainian citizens need to be guided by the sovereignty and independence our country will gain after the victory. This victory will be the cornerstone of all further actions of Ukraine as a nation. It will be the final chapter in a 400-year struggle for our rights. I know there will be more challenges ahead even after we are victorious, but my optimistic nature leads me to hope for the best.”

Despite hope for Ukraine’s victory, daily work and studies require Ukraine’s emerging lawyers to acclimate. I spoke with Marharyta Brianska, a young woman who is specializing in international law at Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University in Kharkiv, while also working for one of the country’s leading law firms. She detailed some such adjustments.

“Whenever the air raids start while I’m at work, I have to head to the underground parking garage beneath our building. The garage has Wi-Fi, so at least I’m able to continue working during these periods. If the air raids start before I get to the office, I have to find somewhere to wait until it’s safe to continue on my way to work,” she said.

“Blackouts are another issue; I never thought I would be so happy to have electricity and water running at my flat. My office has a powerful generator, which dramatically improves the situation, but which is also incredibly expensive,” Brianska added, noting however that she does not wish to complain of any inconveniences when she knows Ukrainian soldiers are putting their lives on the line and facing perpetual danger on behalf of the country.

In addition to the new logistics, the war has taken an emotional toll. “It is be impossible to concentrate on work when you find out that more innocent people have been killed by yet another missile attack,” she said.

Another law student I spoke with, Erik Kucherenko – an international law student at Taras Shevchenko National University and an advisor to a Ukrainian member of parliament – has been using his academic prowess to shore up the country’s legal defenses. Since the start of the war, this young man has worked to develop models for a special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine, and has prepared legal analyses related to the lawful confiscation of Russian-owned assets in the country. He has presented these findings to high-level EU officials and the Ukrainian parliament.

“I firmly believe that the Ukraine of the future is a lively democratic state and technological hub, and a driver of positive change in the EU and NATO. Ukraine has already changed the world, and the way the war develops will undoubtedly determine how safe other democracies will be in the future. This is a crucial moment; therefore, it is in the interest of the US to support us with tanks, aircraft, long-range missiles, and other critical equipment. But I also want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for what our allies have already done for Ukraine. Their great contribution will be remembered by many generations of proud and brave Ukrainians,” he said during a recent interview.

Kucherenko added that the experience of the past year has helped him shore up his internal defenses.“The main insight I have developed one year into the full-scale invasion is to divide everything into what one can change and what one can’t. For issues that fall into the first category, act. For those in the second, do not worry about them. Develop your bold vision and do everything to implement it despite any obstacles,” he said.

While all of these students’ experiences are unique, they share one common attribute with all other Ukrainians: the drive to do everything they can to bring victory closer. There is no doubt among law students, and in fact among the whole Ukrainian nation, that light will always overcome darkness.

Anastasiia Rozvadovska is a JURIST correspondent and LLM student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She earned her law degree from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.