Since Russian troops invaded Ukrainian territory in late February 2022, over four million Ukrainians have fled the country. Among them is Tetyana Drozd. Drozd is 37 years old and is a gemologist, she works with gemstones and jewellery. Over different steps her escape led her to the Free University of Bolzano, where she is lecturing now. An interview about her escape, Bolzano and her plans for the future.
Salto.bz: Can you tell me about yourself?
Drozd: I was born and grew up in Poltava, a city in the eastern Ukraine. For the past twelve years I lived in Kyiv. Having a PhD in geology I’m an expert gemologist, my scientific field of research and experience is related to the assessment of jewellery and gemstones and jewellery design. In addition, I have specialized in various types of stones and precious metal jewellery. I have also studied atypical jewellery design involving raw unprocessed stones. For one year I worked at the Kyiv National University of Technology and Design, but also before that I worked on different scientific projects with colleagues from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.
What did you do once the war broke out?
To see my country suffering like this, is emotionally really rough for me. At the beginning of the war, I volunteered in a hospital for the first two weeks in my native region Poltava. Then, women and children were asked to leave the region, as the situation kept getting more and more confusing. First my parents and I fled to the west of Ukraine, we stayed at friends. The west was safer than my childhood region Poltava, which was close to the frontline, no one really knew what to expect.
How did you reach Bolzano?
After some time, we left Ukraine and went to Milan. There we were accommodated by friends of the family. In Milan I sent my curriculum vitae to the Faculty of Design and Art of the Free University of Bolzano, I applied as a design scientist and researcher. I was very happy when I received the positive reply. That’s how in June I started to work at the Faculty of Design and Art in Bolzano.
Did your parents come to Bolzano with you?
No, I’m here alone. My parents returned to Poltava from Milan, it was their conscious choice. Poltava is only a few kilometres away from the front, of course I worry about them a lot. I’m in touch with them every day. The situation in Ukraine is very tense, about 40% of the energy industry have been destroyed, that’s why they are often without light and heating.
How were your first months here?
I acclimatized quite well. Most people from South Tyrol understand the situation in Ukraine and many helped me here and are still helping. I feel supported by the locals and also from the European community in general. I’m grateful for all the support and the understanding, a big Ukrainian thanks for that!
How is the scientific work in South Tyrol going?
I love being surrounded by the beautiful scenery of South Tyrol, it’s breathtaking and fulfilling. As I’m a creative person, mountain and clean air provide me with inspiration for new creative scientific research. The environment led me to the topic of my scientific field here, local marble. During these first months here my colleagues and I have been involved in a study about finding new ways to use local marble, it was really interesting.
What can you tell me about this scientific research?
Firstly, we collected samples of local marble from various locations, then we examined them for their radioactivity and interaction with electronics. Finally, we developed experimental jewellery made from the local marble. Due to its properties such as its uniform, color and ecological indicators we have proven, that the “local treasure” marble cannot just be used for building purposes or sculptures, but also for jewellery and in electronics.
Other than scientific research you also conduct practical classes at the faculty?
Yes, I’m involved in a lecture with my colleague, there we work with materials and with stones, compare natural materials and conduct interesting experiments. We furthermore look at different types of rocks under the microscope and work on them by drilling, polishing or apply engraving on them.
What are the differences between education in Ukraine and South Tyrol?
In general, the educational process in Ukraine and South Tyrol is similar, both universities are part of the Bologna process, which are agreements between European countries to ensure quality in universities. At the Free University of Bolzano I really like the freedom of thought and expression between students and professors, I would like such freedom also in Ukraine in higher education institutions.
In the last days Ukraine was able to reconquer some occupied areas, some Ukrainians are already on their way back home. Do you think about leaving South Tyrol?
We still have a tense situation in our country, Ukraine is going through a very difficult time right now, for now I will surely stay here. No one can really predict what will happen over the next months. I honestly don’t know what I will do once the war is finished, maybe I will decide to stay, maybe I will go back home. From a professional point of view I would like to continue being involved in a scientific collaboration between European countries and Ukraine and conduct further interesting scientific joint projects.
What do you think will be the outcome of this situation?
That is a difficult question. Like any living person I feel different emotions in such a situation, sometimes negative ones prevail. But I understand that this can destroy me as a person, and then I remember the wise saying of Confucius: “If you hate, then you have been defeated”, for me human values can never be defeated, I believe in the power of thoughts of positivity and I believe in the faith and the independency of Ukrainians. I’m sure, at the end there can only be one true result of this war, the victory of Ukraine. Right now, Ukraine is defending their independence and values, not only Ukrainian values, but human values in general, to be free in thoughts, words and actions.
Interview: Nathanael Peterlini