Kirill Drik, a master’s degree student at Tel Aviv University’s School of Political Science, Government, and International Affairs, experienced an incredible ordeal during the war between Russia and Ukraine. For ten months, he hid from the Ukrainian army, who sought to recruit him, in a desolate bunker filled with the constant sounds of explosions, rats, and a repugnant stench. Thankfully, his partner made sure to bring him food every day.
Studying in a Dark, Abandoned Shelter
Despite the bunker’s unstable internet, Kirill persevered with his studies using Zoom, with the dedicated support of the University’s Coordinator of Advanced Degrees, the Head of the School, and the entire teaching staff. They were all committed to assisting Kirill in completing his degree even under such challenging circumstances.
Last month, Kirill’s dream became a reality as he proudly stood on the stage of Tel Aviv University, ready to receive his hard-earned degree.
“Russian planes were constantly bombing the area and there were lots of alarms. I was scared and didn’t know if I would ever be able to return to my normal life.” – Kirill Drik
Facing Unimaginable Difficulties
Reflecting on his experience, Kirill shared, “The war in Ukraine presented countless obstacles for me, particularly in meeting course requirements and submitting assignments.” He continued, brimming with excitement, “The bunker in the city of Dnipro, where I recided, was a dark, abandoned shelter with only a small night lamp. The lack of internet access, the terrible smell of sewage, rats scurrying around my feet, and the echoes of explosions constantly haunting the background made it a terrifying environment. The bunker was situated near an ammunition factory, resulting in incessant bombings by Russian planes. I was scared, uncertain whether I would ever return to a normal life.”
The Mission to Graduate Kirill Drik
Just a few months before this dire situation, Kirill had been living in Israel, pursuing his master’s degree at Tel Aviv University’s School of Political Science, Government, and International Affairs.
In 2017, Kirill had immigrated to Israel from Ukraine as a lone soldier and had served full-time in the IDF as a volunteer in a commando unit, despite facing health challenges. After completing his military service, he commenced his studies at Tel Aviv University. In February 2022, during a semester break, he traveled to his hometown, Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine, to visit his parents. However, his stay extended due to his mother’s sudden illness and hospitalization, until February 25th.
“I asked the lecturers to report to us regularly if he missed classes, and we all tried to prepare study materials so he would be prepared for the classes that took place on Zoom.” – Prof. Hanna Lerner
When the war broke out between Russia and Ukraine on the eve of his flight back to Israel, Kirill, holding both Israeli and Ukrainian citizenship, found himself unable to leave. As all citizens were obligated to join the army, he had no choce but to flee and seek refuge in a bunker for ten long months, with his partner providing him essential provisions.
A Ray of Light Amidst Darkness
During those arduous days, Kirill maintained regular contact with Sigal Shachar, the Coordinator of Advanced Degrees at Tel Aviv University’s School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs. Additionally, Professor Hanna Lerner, the Head of the School, wholeheartedly supported Kirill and rallied the entire teaching staff for Operation “Graduation of Kirill Drik “.
Despite the unbearable conditions, confined to the bunker, Kirill persisted with his studies, attending Zoom classes, completing exams, adn working on projects.
Prof. Lerner shares that, “once we learned that Kirill was hiding in Ukraine, it became paramount for us to maintain daily contact wtih him. I requested lecturers to keep us informed if he missed any classes, and we all diligently prepared study materials to ensure he could keep up with the Zoom sessions. It couldn’t have been easy for him, and we are immensely proud of Kirill for his unwavering determination to continue studying, even amid the sounds of shelling and alarms, while hiding in the bunker for days on end.”
“For the rest of my life I will never stop being thankful for everything Tel Aviv University has done for me. I am sure we will meet again when I pursue my Ph.D.” – Kirill Drik
“When I received my degree I felt that I had finally returned to my homeland.” Kirill receives his degree. Pictured with Prof. Hanna Lerner (left) and Sigal Shachar.
Gratefulness and Hope for the Future
After ten challenging months in Ukraine, including four failed attempts to escape through the border, Kirill received a phone call from Sigal who shared the happy news that after much effort the University, in cooperation with Tel Aviv University’s Lowy International School, had managed to arrange all the documents that were missing in order for him to leave Ukraine and return to Israel.
Kirill’s journey came full circle when he finally received his degree, a moment that made him feel like he had returned home. Standing on stage, he received his diploma, accompanied by Prof. Hanna Lerner and Sigal Shachar.
“My homeland is Israel,” Kirill declared. Reflecting on his experience he said, “For the rest of my life, I will forever be grateful for everything Tel Aviv University has done for me. I know we will meet again when I pursue my Ph.D.” With tears of joy, Kirill expressed his gratitude to the audience, stating, “My story is a testament to triumph. Never let anything hold you back. With determination, technology, and the suppport of good-hearted people, you can overcome any obstacle.”