Ukrainian scholars supported by Merton

The beginning of 2022 saw the start of a devastating war in Ukraine, which has sadly continued to escalate. In an effort to help those in need, the College has established a scholarship for a Ukrainian refugee Master’s student and is also supporting a research fellow in cooperation with the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA). The scholarship and fellowship were both made possible by donations from Mertonians, who came together to raise £82,500 in less than three months. We are grateful for this timely support and would like to extend particular thanks for their generosity to Harry Bush (1971), Chip (1966) and Joan Filson, and Richard Harvey (1956).

We were delighted to welcome Master’s student Taisiia Sazonova and fellow Nadiya Ivanenko to our community at the beginning of Michaelmas term this year. They have kindly shared their stories below.

Taisiia Sazonova, Graduate Research Student, MSc in Genomic Medicine

Taisiia Sazonova is studying for an MSc in Genomic Medicine at the Nuffield Department of Medicine. Previously in Ukraine Taisiia was training as a medical doctor.

Here, Taisiia tells us about how she came to be at Merton and her experience at Oxford so far:

“I’m from Kharkiv, in the Eastern part of Ukraine. In 2021 I graduated with honours from Kharkiv Karazin National University, School of Medicine. During my studies, I was actively involved in research and won awards from student scientific conferences in Ukraine. I was always interested in a research career in the future. In 2019 I won the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship Award and had the opportunity to work as a research intern in the Metabolism, Obesity and Nutrition Lab at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. My research topic was ‘Acute and chronic effects of obesity on cardiovascular risk factors’. In August 2021 I started my medical doctor training at the Kharkiv Academy of Postgraduate Education and worked as a resident doctor in Kharkiv. 

"When the war started on February 24th 2022, I was in Kharkiv. I had plenty of plans for my future life in Ukraine: I planned to complete my medical residency, start to work on my PhD project, work as a doctor, and teach at the university. Because of the war, these plans changed dramatically. I am from one of the most dangerous districts of Kharkiv: Saltivka. For more than a month I lived under constant shelling and bombardment. We did not have electricity, water, mobile connection, internet, or opportunities to buy food and medicine. My house on the outskirts of Kharkiv was under attack, and my life and my family were in danger. Every day in Kharkiv brought death, destruction, hunger and cold. This war hurt me very deeply, and I experienced great stress and fear. In these conditions, developing professionally and studying were impossible. The war in Ukraine completely changed my life plans, and at the moment I do not see an opportunity to develop professionally and live in Kharkiv because the situation is still unstable.

"I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to study at Oxford University. I appreciate it so much. Now I’m studying for an MSc in Genomic Medicine at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, obtaining critically important skills and knowledge for healthcare professionals for the development and delivery of genomic medicine. I’m learning a lot from this experience and I plan to eventually return to Ukraine to become a driver of change.

"Merton College is an integral part of my intellectual and professional development. I have found true friends here, opportunities to grow and develop, and a lot of help and support. I’m so inspired by the community at Merton, and next, I plan to obtain a DPhil in Medical Sciences to continue my research career.”


Dr Nadiya Ivanenko, Research Fellow at the Department of Education

Dr Nadiya Ivanenko is a Research Fellow in citizenship education at the Department of Education, University of Oxford, and Chairperson of the English-Speaking Union, Ukraine.

Previously in Ukraine, Nadiya was Associate Professor in the Department for Germanic Languages, World Literature and Teaching Methodology in the Faculty of Ukrainian Philology, Foreign Languages and Social Communications, and Vice Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the Central Ukrainian State University. Her PhD was in Comparative Linguistics.

Here, Nadiya tells us how she came to be at Merton College and her experience at Oxford so far:

Before the war started, I worked as a University Professor, teaching English as a Foreign Language at the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the Central Ukrainian State University in Kropyvnytskyi, a regional city about 300 km south of Kyiv. I was also the Chairperson of the English-Speaking Union (ESU) Ukraine, and these two jobs complemented each other in a great way. I loved my jobs and was so inspired by the research I was doing as I worked with young people, always trying to mentor them to develop their creative initiative and potential leadership qualities.

"Everything changed in the early morning on 24 February 2022 when we were woken up by awful whooshing sounds of military aircraft. It’s difficult to describe what the first few hours were like: all our relatives were in different cities, everyone was just at a loss. Normal life was finished. But my students helped me to find strength, as they were in contact with me and I could only be a role model of civil values for them, taking my own small steps to help those who needed my support.

"I started volunteering as a translator; collecting supplies with my students for Ukrainian soldiers. I helped raise money for medical kits to be sent to the front line and worked to find accommodation and clothes for displaced people. But the days were becoming more and more scary, and the nights even more so. There were air raid sirens all the time and sounds of military aircraft. My daughter Yuliia and I are still affected by these sounds. Our apartment at home is on the seventh floor and we were told to sleep fully dressed in the corridor, though we hardly slept at all. We were advised to pack our documents in case we had to leave in a hurry.

"That moment of departure came very suddenly and there was no time to pack at all, but at that moment we thought we were leaving for just a few weeks. Months later I realized that all my life can actually be packed in one hand, the one holding my daughter’s trembling hand. My friend appeared on my doorstep with her son and took us to her car. We left the city very quickly using back roads instead of highways to avoid the threat of missile strikes. 

"We eventually made it to the Moldova border and then drove on to Romania, which we felt was safer because it is in the EU. From there we flew to Vienna with the aim of renting a flat in the city, but it was not possible to do so for just a few weeks and so, through friends of a friend, I eventually managed to find a place to stay in a small town two hours from Bratislava in Slovakia. Those people were so helpful and welcoming to us.  

"I realised that I was not going to be able to return to Ukraine any time soon and started applying for jobs in Germany and in the Czech Republic, receiving offers of placement at German and Czech universities. But I don't speak German or Czech and I could see how difficult that was going to be, whereas I had lived in the UK, having studied at Oxford for a year during my PhD, and I know people here. A month later we arrived in the UK.

"Mike Tulloch, Chair of ESU Salisbury, and his wife Emily, have become like a second family to us, and Professor James Raven, a former ESU chair, invited me and Yuliia to Cambridge for a few days for a break. While there, he introduced me to some other professors who talked to me about how best to apply for jobs in British universities through CARA – the Council for At Risk Academics. After quite a long application process I learnt that I had been awarded a Research Fellowship at Oxford University.

"Being here in Oxford has enabled me and my daughter to settle into a new life. My daughter has been able to sleep at night and is not waking up and calling me anymore. Over the summer she took part in an English language summer school and at last started to smile again. She received a full bursary for a year at St. Edward’s School in Oxford, where she is happy meeting many international pupils at the school and socialising with other teens, and is completely involved in her study, sports, and her music education with the wonderful Music Department at Teddies.

"I feel as if wings have grown on my back: I adore being fully involved in the inspiring University environment. I am honoured to work with highly qualified professionals and world class scientists and to see what positive people they all are. I got such a warm welcome at Merton College, which I appreciate tremendously. I am thankful to all those who made my life here in Oxford become normal, as it is extremely difficult, painful and heartbreaking when you leave all your family, your friends, your job, your whole life back home in Ukraine.

"I would like to express my deepest thanks to all the donors of Merton College who supported my application and made my Oxford University placement possible with the college accommodation. A huge thank you for your help, especially at this dark period of my country's life.  I am sincerely grateful for your support of Ukrainian scholars which gives us great opportunities to continue our research.  You are shining examples of cultivating civic virtues and moral values. You inspire us to work hard, develop our global research community and make a difference through transnational citizenship.”

DPhil graduate scholarship appeal

We are now raising funds for a further graduate scholarship, which will support a refugee DPhil student from Ukraine. Donations to this appeal can be made here.