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Top-of-class Ukrainian graduate will ‘use degree skills to rebuild country’

Tomas Tokovyi on the day of his graduation from the University of Bristol

Tomas Tokovyi on the day of his graduation from the University of Bristol

Press release issued: 11 November 2022

A Ukrainian student graduating top of his class from the University of Bristol plans to use the skills he has learnt to rebuild his country.

While Tomas Tokovyi was studying for a Biochemistry degree bombs were exploding just hundreds of metres from his family home.

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

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

“Almost a million people came from all over Ukraine to protest; it was like a city inside Kyiv had emerged,” he recalled.

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

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

Tom 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 lifechanging.”

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

Tom on his way to lectures at the University of Bristol

  • ‌T‌om on his way to lectures 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,” Tom 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 500metres from a military base which has been targeted. To have explosions that close… it’s very difficult.”

After fighting broke out, Tom’s family moved to a safer village. Since moving back to Bila Tserkva, attacks have begun again.

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

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

Now studying for a master’s in Genomic Medicine at the University of Oxford (for which he won a Clarendon scholarship, awarded to the top 1% of postgraduate students), Tom recently helped organise a Ukrainian culture festival of 18 events attended by thousands of people.

‌Tom at a protest in London.

  • Tom at a protest in London.

“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’,” Tom said.

“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.”

Yesterday Tom graduated with fellow biochemistry students in the University of Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building.

Professor Nigel Savery, Head of the School of Biochemistry, said: “Even in a normal year Tom’s academic performance would have been regarded as outstanding.

“To achieve so much whilst also dealing with the emotional demands of having family and friends in a war zone and dedicating large amounts of time to educating people about the situation in Ukraine is astonishing. We are very proud of him!”

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