Maria Kurinna’s quest to study at the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre hasn’t been an easy one.
She had to put off her initial plans to come to Essex after her mum suffered ill health in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in eastern regions, like her hometown of Luhansk, in 2014.
The war has had a profound impact on Maria’s life ever since and has already seen her displaced from her home twice in eight years.
Seeing the brutality of the war led to her joining a human rights movement in her home country to help people who were left behind in warzones.
Many she helped faced violence during conflict and were then left to face discrimination from the state once being displaced.
“I realised I could not stop the war, but I could bring more humanity and kindness to conflict-affected persons' lives.
“I was going to the frontline, I also visited various international organisations such as the UN, Council of Europe and European Parliament.
“I gained a lot from helping others.”
Maria has been invited to speak at a number of global summits over the last year, including during the U.S. Helsinki Commission briefing earlier this month.
Despite best efforts to make a difference in the world of international human rights, particularly in refugee law, women rights and conflict-related law and research, she wanted to advance her knowledge and skills.
For her, there was only one place she wanted to do this.
“Essex Law School has some of the best professors and active practitioners in the world.
“It has one of the oldest Human Rights Centres which allows you to do research that really makes a difference.”
Maria was able to secure partial funding for her Masters in Theory and Practice of Human Rights through a scholarship with the University.
Additional funding has also come via the Foreign and Commonwealth Department Office’s Chevening Scholarship Program.
As well as having to learn about the UK’s educational system, Maria also had to secure a visa and pass an English language exam, known as IELTs.
Maria faced a 40-hour drive to Poland to sit the exam, with the war forcing the cancellation of all flights out of Ukraine.
This meant Maria faced another long drive across Europe to reach Essex and begin her Masters in October.
But the trials and tribulations have been worth it for Maria, who says she is glad to have followed her dreams to Essex.
“I enjoy every lecture and seminar, every piece of reading, and every discussion,” she said.
“I think I like the environment at Essex the most. It is very modern and democratic.
“The professors do not expect you to learn the materials by heart they encourage you to challenge your previous beliefs and thoughts, provoking to look at an issue from all possible kind of angles that expand your horizons.
“I also like the campus a lot. It looks very modern and well-equipped that inspire you to study with enthusiasm.”
Maria is keen to connect with other Ukrainians at Essex over the coming months and has recommended prospective international students hoping to study at the University apply for a place as early as possible.
For now, Maria is excited to continue her studies at the Human Rights Centre.
But with the war in Ukraine never far from her mind, she harbours ambitions of eventually returning to her home country to help it recover from the war, as well as working to enshrine human rights in laws and policies.
She said: “I cannot wait to learn more about best practices for displaced people as well as helping to bring to account the perpetrators of war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
“I want to bring all this knowledge back to Ukraine and strengthen our efforts and re-build back better Ukraine with more transparent and more effective policies, services and legislation in place.
“When I leave Essex, I will do my best to help establish a special tribunal on the crime of aggression Russia committed in Ukraine.
“I also want to help prosecute the perpetrators, the top leadership and those who have committed war crimes in Ukraine.”
Maria added: “I really recommend potential students to go get their dream and not to give up until you achieve it.
"Believe in yourself, work hard and stay focused.
"More professional specialists with such a quality education the University of Essex provides can make this world a better place for us and the future generations."