Top-of-class Ukrainian graduate vows to use degree skills to rebuild country

While Tomas Tokovyi was studying for a biochemistry degree, bombs were exploding near his family home.

Rod Minchin
Thursday 10 November 2022 11:52 GMT
Tomas Tokovyi graduated top of the class at Bristol university (handout/PA)
Tomas Tokovyi graduated top of the class at Bristol university (handout/PA)

A Ukrainian student who graduated top of his university class plans to use the skills he has learnt to help rebuild his country.

While Tomas Tokovyi was studying for a biochemistry degree, bombs were exploding a few hundred metres from his family home.

The 21-year-old spent much of his final year at the University of Bristol raising awareness and funds for the Ukrainian war effort – yet still got the highest grade of all his 120 course mates.

Mr Tokovyi was 13 during Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, and he remembers travelling 50 miles from his home city of Bila Tserkva to see the protests in Kyiv.

He recalled: “Almost a million people came from all over Ukraine to protest. It was like a city inside Kyiv had emerged.

“It wasn’t a very peaceful protest, many died… a lot of people who protested were university students.”

In 2017, Mr Tokovyi was one of just three Ukrainians given a HMC Scholarship to study A-levels in the UK.

He said: “I got the letter at about 11pm. I was with my mother and brother, and we were all silent for a good 15 minutes, we knew it would be life-changing.”

At his placement school Pangbourne College, near Reading, Mr Tokovyi got straight As, captained his maths team to competition wins and earnt a place at the University of Bristol.

“I picked Bristol because of its very, very strong biochemistry school and the teaching there,” he said.

At Bristol he was elected as a course representative three years running and volunteered as a tutor in deprived areas of the city.

In his final year, Russia invaded Ukraine.

“To say I was shocked is to say nothing,” he said. “When I read the news, I froze. It’s still hard to believe now that it’s happening.

“Soon my home city, including where me mum and brother live, was being bombarded. You feel helpless, like you are a passenger.

“We live 500 metres from a military base which has been targeted. To have explosions that close… it’s very difficult.”

After fighting broke out, his family moved to a safer village. But since moving back to Bila Tserkva, attacks have begun again.

“Drones have been attacking,” he said. “They are 250kg and cause a lot of disruption. Again, this has been happening 500 metres from my house.”

Mr Tokovyi has organised several awareness-raising events, including one at the University of Bristol that attracted 200 people.

He is now studying for a masters in genomic medicine at the University of Oxford.

He said: “There are many more projects coming. I don’t want to be that guy who after the war is over thinks ‘I could’ve done more’.

“With the knowledge I get from Bristol and Oxford I want to develop a really strong biotech and entrepreneurial culture in Ukraine, to help rebuild my home and rebuild my country.

“I knew coming to the UK would be life-changing, and it was. I haven’t lost my drive at all, my motivation and hunger to build and help people has only grown.”

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