A St Petersburg University student from Donetsk speaks about his war service and youth policy activities
Vladimir Sukhinin is a graduate of a higher education institution located in Donetsk. After the start of the special military operation, he volunteered for the front. When he was demobilised, he became a student of St Petersburg University to continue his international relations studies. At the same time, he works in the field of youth policy. In this interview, he speaks about: his life in Donetsk; his war service; why he decided to enter St Petersburg University; and how today he helps the younger generation to understand what is happening in the foreign and national policy.
What was your alma mater in the Donetsk People’s Republic?
I was a student of the Faculty of History at Donetsk National University, now called Donetsk State University. I earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Foreign Policy and graduated with distinction. At the same time, I undertook a second higher education at the Academy of Management and Public Administration under the aegis of the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic. I was a student at the Department of Management Theory and Administration. Since it was a correspondence course, I graduated six months later than I had done at my first university. In 2023, I was issued a diploma in the field of study "Regional Governance and Local Self-Government".
Could you please tell us why you decided to become a St Petersburg University student?
The School of International Relations at St Petersburg University is very popular among students of international relations of Donetsk State University, and after being awarded a bachelor’s degree, we strive to be enrolled as its students. In our field of study, this practice is quite common. I can say that we are the third generation of students who are transferred to St Petersburg. Moreover, for compatriots living abroad, which we still were during that admission campaign, there was a simple admission procedure.
Graduates of St Petersburg University are well-known world leaders. Of course, it also motivates us to become students of this university.
I was applying as an international student, a citizen of the Donetsk People’s Republic, and therefore participated in the portfolio competition. I prepared a motivation letter and presented many certificates in various fields of activity, which in total brought me the required score. The absence of entrance examinations was a great attraction for me. A fairly large delegation, about seven or eight students, came here to study from Donetsk.
What attracted you to study international relations?
Initially, I did not know at all where to apply. My parents are doctors. My father has a degree in surgery, while my mother is a functional cardiologist, so I was also considering medical education. Moreover, my sister graduated with distinction from a medical lyceum. Yet, she decided to change the field. She became a student of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, and I became an international relations student. I am grateful to my parents for not insisting that I do what they wanted, but simply recommending me to take a particular path. Apparently, my father sensed some potential in me: an oratory ability, easy communication skills, finding a common language with people, defending my point of view. He decided that international relations should be chosen as a major.
Now, I do not regret it at all. Right after my first year of study, I began to like what I am doing, namely to understand world trends and global governance, and what affects countries and people’s lives at the local level . I have always liked to study life from a different angle, and to evaluate this or that activity drawing on other political views. The countries of the world have different attitudes towards politics and public life. International relations as a field is precisely aimed at studying the inner mentality of a person and understanding how they think. Based on this, it structures and creates the work of the foreign affairs department of a particular country.
Are you planning to pursue an international relations career? Perhaps your extracurricular activities are lying in this field?
I have two educations in the field of national and foreign policies, but I do not see myself as an active diplomat or an employee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The foreign policy of the state is a continuation of its national one. It provides the citizens with what they are lacking in the course of the government’s implementation of national policy. I would like to combine both directions. And a large field for action opens up here. It may be either public administration or work in economic, military, and civil structures that are engaged in activities within the state, but at the same time affect the authority of the state in the international arena.
Now, I am actively developing in the field of youth policy. Firstly, it forms the personnel core for state policy, and, secondly, it is a very important strategic area for the development of the state. We see that today a huge amount of time and resources are allocated for the development of the younger generation, and this is done for a good reason, since the youth of any country is its future. I like to comprehend, to create, that is why I work in the field of youth policy. It includes everything: international relations, when we agree on forums with students from neighbouring countries; and national political activities, when we communicate with administrations and committees of other cities.
Could you please share your plans for the future with us?
I am a first-year master’s student at St Petersburg University pursuing a degree in Artificial Intelligence and International Security, and first of all I am planning to successfully complete my studies. Of course, I no longer have such a desire as I did when pursuing a bachelor’s degree, to be awarded a diploma with distinction, because now I need to work, to provide for myself, and help my parents as much as possible. At present, I work at the Moskovskii youth and adolescent centre. After graduation, I am planning to do the same, but at a higher level: to develop the field of patriotic education and youth policy within the state, thus giving young people what they are lacking so much today. This includes: informal meetings; and conversations to understand the processes taking place today in the international arena and in the internal political structure of the state. I would like as many schoolchildren and students as possible to know why today’s events are happening and what that can lead to.
You have recently took part in an event organised by the Russian society "Znanie" at the Academic Gymnasium of St Petersburg University. What was your presentation about? Could you please share your impressions with our readers?
That meeting with students was held as part of the patriotic campaign "Znanie. Heroes". It involves historians, veterans of the Great Patriotic War and special military operation, and other conflicts speaking to young people. We held a lecture together with my dear friend Vladimir Stepanov. We were schoolmates, then fellow students, and volunteered together after the start of the special military operation, yet on different fronts. When he came from Donetsk to St Petersburg not so long ago, I suggested that we speak together at the upcoming event of "Znanie" in St Petersburg, and received a positive response.
Vladimir and I spoke about: our biography; our military path; the way we lived through military events while at the front; and what motivated us to become volunteers and go to defend our city and Motherland. Also, my lecture included a historical correction about: what had exactly happened at the end of 2013 in Ukraine; what events had led to the formation of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic; and how the situation developed up to the recognition of the Lugansk People’s Republic by the President of the Russian Federation. After our presentation, the students of the gymnasium came up to me and thanked me. They wrote a lot of friendly messages on social networks, and Vladimir Stepanov was almost hugged. They said, ’Thank you for being you,’ and this phrase struck us in a very positive sense.
Yet I cannot but tell you about the incident that happened in the gymnasium. After my lecture, the students were taken out of the assembly hall under the pretext that they urgently needed to visit an elective. To be fair, the video materials about my military life used in my presentation contained obscene language, but it was censored. In the presentation, it was muted by a sound signal which caused the students to laugh. My reaction was normal. After all, they were fourteen-year-old children. I immediately reassured them, regained the attention of the audience, and changed the subject to a truly important one. And when it was Vladimir’s turn to speak, he was left with an audience of literally ten people. He, of course, is a great fellow who managed to completely restructure his presentation into the format of an at-home performance. He went down from the stage, removed the microphone, took one of the audience seats and launched a free dialogue. Schoolchildren who were really interested asked him questions, and he immediately answered them.
In the course of Vladimir’s communication with the students of the gymnasium, there were questions that struck us. One of them asked, and I quote, ’Why did Russia start the war? Every city or town that Russia enters becomes a catalyst for a humanitarian catastrophe.’ We explained that it was not Russia that had initiated the conflict. It all started in 2014, not in 2022. After that, the student asked why they had not distributed villas near Moscow and near Rostov between those Ukrainians who did not agree with the Russian method of conducting policy. In his words, Russia could simply bribe those Ukrainians, and everything would be fine. We looked at that young man, smiled and thought once again that we had come there for a good reason.
Another boy of the same age was sitting next to him. He spoke out in defence of Russia, the Russian army, Vladimir and me. He came up with quite weighty arguments that are unknown to a person who is not interested in this. For example, he said that in 2014 a bill was issued in Ukraine on the abolition of the Russian language. It was not adopted then, yet in 2017 a law on education was passed, which provided for education exclusively in the Ukrainian language. It is another issue, but the student knew about it. As an analyst and a native of Donetsk, I was pleased that a person was interested in that and read verified authentic sources.
Although we were disappointed by the incident at the gymnasium, it helped us meet at the University such people as: Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University; Aleksandr Babich, Senior Vice-Rector for Youth Policy and Admissions; Vladimir Savinov, Vice-Rector for Educational Activity; and Liudmila Iatina, First Deputy Head of the Department for Youth Affairs (International Relations, Sociology, Political Science and Economics). They took the time to personally meet with us, spoke very frankly, and supported our decision, because at some point Vladimir and I really doubted whether that lecture was necessary. I was very pleased that there was justice in the world and people who really shared our opinion. So I do not feel alone here. This is very important, because I have no one in St Petersburg, and it is difficult to have no support.
What events in your life did you want to tell the schoolchildren about?
There is a rather sad but noteworthy story, because it is very revealing. Vladimir and I are classmates, and we had a third friend, Daniil Dudnikov. We went to school together from the first grade. We took part in social events together in high school, and learned how to take apart a rifle and march together in military training classes. Then, we became university students and ended up in different student groups. Yet we worked together at the student trade union bureau. Vladimir was responsible for the creative direction. He was engaged in vocals and KVN performances, while Daniil was head of the intellectual club of Donetsk National University.
After the start of the special military operation, the three of us volunteered for military service. To be honest, we did not go to fight. We went to serve, because we did not know how to fight then and we did not know that we would be sent to fight. We were sent to three different fronts. I was sent to the southern one, in the direction of Mariupol, Vladimir was on the south-western one, by Zaporozhye, and Daniil was on the northern one, towards Kharkov. Unfortunately, only two of us came back. Vladimir and I were demobilised for various reasons, but we stayed safe and sound, while Daniil was mortally wounded near Kharkov on 25 March 2022. He died in battle with an icon in his hands, carrying out his military duty, defending the positions of the allies during the advance of the column of the nationalist battalion. Of course, we were shocked by that. He was our best friend since the first grade. He also became a St Petersburg University student, but did not live up to the news that he had been enrolled. When I arrived in St Petersburg, I found out that he was supposed to study public relations. I had to request a death certificate and submit it to the International Admissions Office in order to have him expelled.
Daniil is a real hero, and Vladimir and I are constantly telling this to everyone. I am deeply convinced that he died not for our mourning and suffering. We must enjoy life and continue to do our job so that the special military operation ends with the victory of the Russian Federation. It is necessary, because now the global system is being redistributed, with Russia claiming to occupy one of the leading positions. I believe that we will win.
Have you ever spoken in front of a different audience?
At the Moskovskii youth and adolescent centre, I have many friends of my age, as well as younger and older friends. They asked me a lot of questions when they found out I was from Donetsk. Because any civilian living in Donetsk is now a hero. My parents, who go to treat people every day, any minibus driver, any employee of the housing service, any official − they are all heroes, because they work under fire in terrible conditions, but they continue their service and show good results.
I tell young people about that and about military events. Of course, I do not like boasting about it, so I showed footage from the front only to a small number of people who I trust and who asked me to talk about it in an informal setting. I did not refuse them. Naturally, they were amazed and for some reason called me a hero, although I do not consider myself one. I am not a hero, I am a volunteer. Heroes are those who have been fighting since 2014 until today, and I just did what was necessary. And Vladimir Stepanov fully supports my opinion.
To what extent is the younger generation ready to accept this information? What and why do you think they need to be told?
This is necessary in order to prevent the situation that occurred on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square in Kiev, in late 2013. It is necessary to tell young citizens of the Russian Federation, pupils and students, about what foreign influence on the internal policy of the state can lead to and what harm can active borrowing of foreign words do. It also has a strong influence, no matter what anyone says. In order not to cause activities of the ’fifth column’ and the collapse of the country from within, which can happen if the young part of our country does not know our history, why it is being created now and using such methods. We need not only to tell people the truth, but to demonstrate material evidence. For this, we went to speak at the Academic Gymnasium. Of course, the students were interested to see photos and videos from the front. They wanted to know how we lived. It was clear that there was neither bed nor shower. It was of great interest to them. As if it was from another world.
Yet my main thought, with which I came to St Petersburg and am living up to this day, is the following: now we are all living under a military sky. The citizens of Lugansk, Donetsk and the People’s Republics took the whole blow on themselves from 2014 to 2022, protecting our great Motherland on their own. Last year, this duty passed to the shoulders of all citizens of the Russian Federation. Not only of those who can go to war, but also of those who provide maintenance for the rear. The motto that I have been living with since the beginning of my studies at the university is therefore as follows: ’A strong rear gives rise to a victorious front.’ I am deeply convinced of this, and all these young people who study at schools or have just become university students are our strong rear. Without them, there will be no victorious front.