From A War Zone To Oxford’s Hottest Degree Program: One Ukrainian Student’s Journey

Upon her return to Ukraine, Anastasiia Zagoruichyk wants to help build a green future for her country. “To do this effectively, I’ll need to understand the technical policy changes that are needed, so I can help to implement them,” she says, which is why she chose to study at Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. Courtesy photo

The sun hadn’t yet risen in Kyiv when Ukrainian journalist Anastasiia Zagoruichyk learned Russia had invaded her country. She rushed to gather her things and drove out of the city to her family’s house in the country.

Soon, however, Zagoruichyk was forced to make the difficult decision to leave Ukraine. She headed for London, where she planned to use her experience in journalism and environmental policy to help her home country from abroad — and, she hoped, gain knowledge and connections to help create a green future for Ukraine.

She soon found the right place: a new master’s program at Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and Environment that focuses on sustainability through the lens of business and economics.


From a young age, Anastasiia Zagoruichyk knew she would find a way to make a difference.

“I always thought that I have to bring some changes in my country, that I have to be this engine,” she says. As an undergraduate at Kyiv University, she discovered her passion for protecting the environment and fighting climate change. After graduating in 2020 with a degree in political science, she worked in a Ukrainian government agency, inspecting power plants and companies to ensure they followed environmental laws and regulations. In this role she saw how limited capacities and economic interests created a push-and-pull between the Ukrainian government, environmental activists, and businesses, hindering progress toward reducing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

“It was hard for enterprises to decarbonize,” Zagoruichyk recalls. “It was always some kind of business lobby and climate activists fighting with the business … and government should be a mediator. But it’s hard to find the solution between all of this.”

She went on to work with various NGOs and helped found a new green party in Ukraine called Ecological Alternative. In her on-the-ground work with voters in local elections, she learned firsthand how difficult it is to communicate the harsh realities of climate change and environmental destruction. She began writing articles about climate change and its impacts which were published in Ukrainian and international media outlets. In 2021, she traveled to Scotland to cover the 26th annual UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow for the Ukrainian online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.


Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February 2022. They have destroyed, occupied, or stolen a significant amount of Ukraine’s renewable energy infrastructure since the invasion began, Zagoruichyk says. Yet she has not lost hope for a green future for her country — just the opposite.

“When we win the war,” she says, “Ukraine will need to rebuild” — and out of the rubble will come an opportunity for sustainable development on an unprecedented scale. “It’s our tipping point,” she adds. Ukraine can turn tragedy into progress by investing in eco-friendly infrastructure like solar farms, as opposed to systems and industries like coal power plants, which wreak havoc on the climate.

She explains that this will require the support of the Ukrainian government, industries, and the public, along with the direction of people who are able to navigate the complex intersections between sustainable development and economic growth in a developing country.

When Zagoruichyk arrived in the UK to continue her efforts, she initially felt guilty. Her country was facing ruthless attacks from Russia, civilians were taking up arms against Russian forces, homes and hospitals were being destroyed — and she was 1,500 miles away. “I’m doing things that aren’t important,” she told herself, “I’m not a warrior, I’m not a doctor.” Eventually she realized that creating a green economy will be a crucial part of Ukraine’s recovery:

“In the end, someone has to do it.”

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