When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, there was an urgent need for interpreters who could help Ukrainian refugees. That’s when Professor of Russian Language Larisa Leisiö reached out to her students, asking if they’d be interested in helping. Fifteen students volunteered as interpreters right away.
“Volunteering as an interpreter certainly develops the students’ professional skills, but in my view, they also find it as therapeutic and empowering under these circumstances. The students feel like their skills can make a difference,” Leisiö says.
This is also how the students themselves describe the situation.
“On a personal level, the war started by Russia came as a shock. I was ashamed that I’d ignored many warning signs and even blatant crimes merely as threatening rhetoric that is part of the Russian political culture – but these kinds of actions are not part of any culture, and must be strongly condemned,” says Maria Urpi, who is studying to become a teacher of Russian and English, describing her feelings.
Urpi is one of the students who joined a team of volunteers fetching a group of Ukrainian refugees to Finland from Poland via the Baltic states. Through Hane Peace Ukraine, an association established in Joensuu to help Ukrainians, the students got a change to collaborate with the Red Cross, both the Finnish and Estonian Border Guards, the Finnish customs authorities, and representatives of the Finnish Immigration Service.
Urpi says that her studies have proven extremely useful in the situation.
“I already hold a Master’s degree and I’ve completed a specialist training in Russian and Eastern European studies at the Aleksanteri Institute. I’ve also worked for the UN in Kyrgyzstan for some years, so I’m familiar with the region of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine.”