The cost of living crisis and conflict in Ukraine have caused turmoil, heartbreak and extreme difficulty for people all over the world. At Reading, students’ financial security has been disrupted, jeopardising their studies and placing strain on their day-to-day lives.
Recognising the challenges that many students were facing, the University launched a Summer Telephone Campaign and reached out to its alumni and supporters to seek donations to the Student Support Fund.
The Fund provides one-off grants to students experiencing financial hardship and so far donors have helped more than 280 students, enabling them to finish the year with fewer financial concerns. Thank you to our community for your continued support.
This week, Aleksandra speaks to CONNECTED about how the Fund enabled her to stay at university when the sanctions imposed on Russian banking systems prohibited her from accessing her finances, or from getting support from her family.
Aleksandra, who is now in the final year of her PhD, said: “My thesis was inspired by the strict laws in Russia that prohibit LGBTQ+ people from speaking about their own experiences. In Russia, the act of talking openly about their lives is considered ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’.
“And I wanted to investigate the contradictions in that, and the ways in which human rights and propaganda law intersect with bodily autonomy. I wouldn’t have been able to research this topic in Russia which is why I chose to study in the UK – the fact that I’m even conducting research into this topic places me at risk of being accused of breaking the law.”
“I was completely cut off”
When Aleksandra embarked on her studies four years ago, she knew it would be financially challenging but she was determined to make it work.
She said: “I sold all of my things and saved all the money I could to get here. I took out a loan in Russia and my brother helped me financially as well. When I arrived, I knew it would be difficult but I felt supported and thought I could manage.
“I lost my job during the pandemic and struggled to get more employment – because of my visa I can only work 20 hours a week – so that limited what I could do. By the time lockdown started to ease, I was already in debt. My brother was sending me money monthly but when Russia invaded Ukraine, the UK introduced banking sanctions which meant I was completely cut off from accessing my funds.
“I had no savings because of COVID-19, no access to money or family support, and then the cost of living went up. With no other option, I turned to the Student Support Fund for help.”
Back on track
Aleksandra was awarded a grant to help her cover her living costs and essentials. “The Fund helped me so much. I was able to buy food, pay my rent and focus on my thesis.
“I genuinely wouldn’t have finished my studies without this support. I was afraid of how people would perceive me because I am Russian – I didn’t think I would be allowed this kind of help – but the Student Support Team really cared and understood what I was going through.
“My viva is in two weeks’ time and I feel so much more prepared for it. I really want to do well, not just for myself or for those in my country who might benefit from my research, but also for the people who have helped me get this far.
“To anyone reading this who has contributed to the Student Support Fund, your donation has made such a big difference to my life. I didn’t have anyone else or any other options. You helped me when no one else could, and I’m so grateful for that. Thank you.”
Find out more about how you can support students like Aleksandra.