Unissued Diplomas

Exhibition at University Library honours fallen Ukrainian students

unissued diplomas foto DUB

Unissued Diplomas is a joint effort by Ukrainian and international students to commemorate the loss of their peers. The project has held 56 exhibitions in 22 countries so far. The exhibitions are free to attend but visitors are welcome to make donations to support Ukrainian students still fighting for their nation and livelihoods. “When your classroom turns into a battlefield, your major becomes bravery,” says their website.

Although all the officially scheduled exhibitions are over, exhibitions organised independently like the one in Utrecht are still running. De Bok first saw the exhibition earlier this year in Rotterdam, when attending the conference of the European Association for International Education. 

“I found it very confronting,” he says, referring to the panels that make up the exhibition. “Why were those diplomas not issued?” When he realised that they were personal stories of deceased students, he decided that it was something that the staff and students of Utrecht University needed to see as well. The exhibition will remain at the city centre library until January and is set to move to Utrecht Science Park afterwards.

Travelling the world
“ Those one-by-two-metre panels with students’ stories touched me,” he recollects. It looks like people are having a similar reaction as De Bok had in Rotterdam. When we set up the exhibition this afternoon, people stopped right away because it is right at the entrance of the library. They react immediately.”

One of the panels begins with: “Oleksandra was a student activist who dreamed of a diplomatic career. She wanted to travel the world one day and see the Grand Canyon.” Visitors are informed that she liked to take care of homeless animals, always bringing food with her for them. But then “Oleksandra was killed by the Russian missile attack on Vinnytsia on July 14, 2022. She was on her way to a driving lesson.” A picture of her is displayed alongside her “diploma”, bearing a red seal and an inscription that reads “Bravery”.

On another panel, the text is hauntingly brief. It says: “We don’t know Leah’s story because she died with her whole family and now there is no one to tell it”.

A presentation by Ukrainian students at UU will be held on November 14 to complement the exhibition and further explore the ideas behind it. Instead of sharing personal stories, the students will discuss how their sense of identity is affected by the invasion of their country. They will also talk about human rights and inclusion programmes at Utrecht University. The event is scheduled at 4:30 pm,  also at the Utrecht University Library City Centre, room E.201.

Most visitors have probably lived their entire lives in peace, which makes it difficult to fathom what the students depicted went through. When asked how those who have never seen the atrocities of war can relate to the events displayed, De Bok says: “You never can. The more connected you feel with people, the more you feel linked to what’s going on.I think, at least, I will never fully understand.”

Projects like Unissued Diplomas and the presentation on November 14 aim to remind people of that reality. De Bok observes that the situation in Ukraine has been getting less attention recently due to other conflicts such as the one in Israel and Palestine. He hopes that the exhibition will keep the discussion going. “That’s the most important thing. To have a debate.  Universities are a place for debates.” De Bok hopes that the memories of the Ukrainian students depicted will stay with visitors long after the exhibition ends.

Ukrainian students at UU will give a presentation about the exhibition and their experience of the war on November 14, 4:30 pm, in room E.201 at University Library City Centre.

Unissued Diplomas will be on display at the University Library City Centre until the end of January and is set to move to Utrecht Science Park in 2024. Free entrance.