From Odesa to Vienna

Olga Kyrychenko joined the IDM in May 2022 as she received the IDM/DRC Ukraine Fellowship. In this blog article Olga tells us what her life had been like before the outbreak of the war and how the Russian invasion has affected her family and her hometown Odesa.


My name is Olga Kyrychenko. I was born, grew up and lived all my life in the beautiful sunny city of Odesa, Ukraine. I have the best parents in the world, who are both retired now.  I also have an older sister who is married and has a beautiful little daughter. My dad graduated from high school with distinction and has two higher degrees. He has always told my sister and me how important education was and how it would help us in the future. I followed the advice, studied hard and eventually graduated from school with distinction. Thanks to this, I entered university without entry exams.

I studied at the Odesa State Ecological University, Department of Ecology and Environmental Protection, at which time this department was highly popular. My specialisation was the ecology of recreational and resort economy. After studying for 10 years at school and 5 years at university, I thought – thank God! I will never study again! But never say never!

Family and work

After graduating from the university, I got happily married to a fellow student. He is an economist and works as a lecturer. I started working for a company that made scale models of sea vessels. I was involved in managing paperwork, logistics and communication with clients. Due to the crises in Ukraine and all over the world, the demand for scale models gradually decreased. I started to work remotely, and after almost 10 years in this company, I gave birth to our wonderful son Vitalii.

Then unexpected global challenges emerged: the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, quarantines. I quit my previous job, as the topic of models became completely irrelevant and I took up a position as a senior laboratory assistant at the Department of International Economic Relations at Odesa Mechnikov National University. During the summer, I also worked in the selection committee and I made the final decision to enter the university as a PhD student (never say never!).

Back at the university!

Having successfully passed the entrance exams in two different areas, I became a 1st year student of the correspondence master’s programme in psychology and a 1st year postgraduate student of the Department of International Economic Relations.

Here an interesting stage began, called “the topic of the dissertation project”. I changed topics about three times until my supervisor and I came to an agreement. And I am very grateful to him that he rejected my topics several times. Once he told me some excellent advice, which was crucial in choosing a topic – “Olga, do not listen to anyone, listen to yourself. And remember, you can always change the subject.” That day, while I was driving home, I thought about what he said.

Yes, here it is! Eureka! I want to write about international tourism. Moreover, my basic education also connected with this direction. And I remember how I liked tourism-related subjects at university. I wrote a final version of the topic for my dissertation and, with a little correction, my supervisor approved it. As a result, the topic of my PhD work is “The impact of international tourism on the socio-economic development of the EU countries.”

At the moment I have several articles in monographs, and I am now working on another article. The first year of study was hard. First, in the midst of studying, I got sick with coronavirus. My husband was in the hospital, under oxygen therapy, while my son and I endured it easier, staying at home. One upside was that studying was moved online. Closer to the new year, everything began to improve and return to normal… It seemed like life had become fine again, like there was strength and a desire to move on, to work on my scientific projects. But then, one morning…

On 24th February 2022, on my sister’s birthday, our life was sharply divided into BEFORE and AFTER.


That morning, myself and many other Ukrainians woke up to sounds of explosions. I grabbed the phone with shaking hands to see what the public were writing… After reading the news, I screamed at my sleeping husband:  “wake up!”. The war has started…  

Olga: Primorsky boulevard/Duke statue – also famous Odesa location with a beautiful view into the Sea port (nearby our Town Council and Opera House)  – as far as I know, it is still closed for walking and the Duke statue is still covered with sandbags.

I never thought that this phrase would be heard in our house, in Ukraine. A human is a creature that gets used to everything and adapts quickly. No matter how scary things are. We continue to live in a new reality. In comparison with other cities such as Kharkov, Chernihiv and Mariupol, Odesa it was a little bit safer, but it did not make the wound on our hearts less painful. Literally after a few weeks it became really dangerous in Odesa, as a lot of rockets began to fly at my city. On one of those days, I received a letter from my supervisor, who wrote that there was an opportunity to go to Vienna to carry out scientific research.  

Olga: Here is a photo of my husband and son with a patriotic cat painted on the wall. It’s just one of them, and in Odesa you can find many more. Odesa is famous  for its love of cats (popular phrase in Ukraine – “Odesa’s cats”). So, When the war started, citizens began to paint patriotic cats with our Ukrainian flag, all over Odesa.

Our university has been successfully working on international programmes for a long time, sending its students to exchange experiences and conduct their research at other universities and institutes throughout Europe. And at the end of June 2022, ONU became a member of the European University Foundation, which certainly opens up new educational opportunities for both lecturers and students.  

So, my supervisor sent me a letter and I contacted our vice-rector for international relations for clarifying questions. There was little time for reflection. I was told that the answer should have been given ASAP. I spoke to my husband and he told me – Go ahead! You can do it! There were several nuances that were also important for me. One of them is my son. At another time, I would not have raised this question, but now, when there is a war in my country, I could not leave him alone, leaving him in unsafe Odesa. To my happiness and joy, Mr. Sebastian Schäffer, the Managing Director of my hosting institution, agreed, answering that there was no problem. So, the process began. After a while, my son and I ended up in a beautiful city – Vienna. Vienna welcomed us with warmth, sunshine and friendliness. And the people that I met immediately upon arrival at the station were kind and helped in seemingly elementary things such as carrying our  luggage. But these little things are what human relationships are built on. For some people, this may be anything special, but for me at that time it was a huge help. Me with a small child, with two huge suitcases, unable to communicate in German, what’s next? And here is a simple – let me help you with the luggage… I am grateful to these wonderful people with all my heart.  

Olga: Our famous Opera House, which is one of the most beautiful theatres by its architecture in Europe. The Opera House was closed during the first months of the war, but now it is open for visitors. Btw, The modern building of Opera House was built in 1887 by the architect studio Fellner and Helmer in the New Viennese Baroque style.

Getting to know the IDM team was great. Everyone was very kind, helpful and understanding. Here I was given an understanding that I can always count on help and support of what is in their capabilities. Thanks to the IDM and in particular Mr. Sebastian Schäffer, I am here in Vienna, which reminds me of my native Odesa so much. I am safe with my son, and I can work on my project in peace and safety, without being constantly interrupted by the sound of sirens and the need to hide from rockets flying overhead. 

In the end, I want to say that I believe that eventually peace will come to my native land, we will restore Ukraine and will live and build our new life and happiness. Our lives will never be the same, but I believe that a bright and better future awaits us. As our philosophy lecturer told us “Your war is still in the future… and it’s the most important war… you are our scientific elite, and the future of Ukraine depends on you…” There is something to think about.