Dr Maksym Balaklytskyi, who has joined the Department of History, fled the city six days after the invasion started. He was reunited with his wife Iryna and ten-year-old son Nazar, in Colchester in January, almost a year after they were separated at the Ukrainian-Polish border.
He will study the evolution and impact of Russian news and propaganda at Essex and has said he’s “completely happy” in his new British home where he has even been able to meet King Charles III.
Dr Balaklytskyi, a professor of journalism at the University of Kharkiv, and his family witnessed the brutal bombardment of Kharkiv first-hand.
Describing the moment a missile exploded in a neighbouring block and seeing windows blown out all around, he said: “It was an apocalyptic picture, like from Hollywood. There was a sense of fear, but the most unpleasant thing was a sense of total uncertainty. You don’t know what to expect, or how to react, what the actual dangers are or how to prepare for anything.”
Despite being wary of where the frontline was and how safe it was to evacuate, Dr Balaklytskyi and his family headed for the border. Fearing for their son, his wife and child crossed into Poland, where Dr Balaklytskyi’s parents live, before travelling to the UK after accepting an offer from a sponsor family in Colchester.
Hopeful that the war would be ended swiftly, Dr Balaklytskyi stayed in Lviv where he coped with the stress of separation by running, cycling and swimming. Calling on the close-knit Protestant Ukrainian community that he was a part of, he also found work with a church-affiliated television station that was broadcasting daily reports about the humanitarian impact of the war.
Working “gave me a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and that I was contributing to something important,” he said.