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Ukrainian refugee supports her country’s war effort with skills from first-in-the-world course at MDX

Iryna Mushtina, who fled to the UK with her 16-year-old son, is using the MA in Place Branding at Middlesex University to keep the world’s attention on Ukraine’s struggle

Iryna Mushtina

Iryna Mushtina

A Ukrainian refugee has won a top award for supporting her country’s war effort after enrolling on a unique course at Middlesex University.

Iryna Mushtina fled to England with her 16-year-old son after Russia invaded and one of its first missiles flew directly over her house just outside Kyiv.

From the UK she continued to fight for her homeland’s future as her creative digital agency developed the campaign #WhatWeAreFightingFor to keep the world’s attention on Ukraine’s struggle.

Iryna started studying for an MA in Place Branding at Middlesex – the world’s first postgraduate branding course that focuses on cities, regions and countries – and shortly afterwards her project won the City Nation Place Awards in London.

"The lectures – receiving practical experience from world-famous professionals in the area of place branding – are invaluable." Iryna Mushtina

The 43-year-old said: “We understood the campaign was crucially important for all our people. Being in a fierce, bloody war for a year is difficult.

“We must support Ukrainians first and foremost, to remind them of the diverse, authentic, genuine country we have; worth fighting for, no matter how hard it gets.”

The campaign, which has been overseen directly by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and featured at the Eurovison Song Contest in Liverpool, was carried out in Britain, Europe and the US and Iryna said it has helped maintain international support for Ukraine.

Iryna moved to Surrey in the summer of 2022 so her teenage son could continue school.

She said: “We lived near Kyiv in a private house, not far from the sadly famous Bucha, and one of the first Russian missiles flew directly over our house.

“It was the worst day of my life.”

She became interested in the idea of “place branding” after being impressed by locals’ loyalty to their towns and counties while volunteering in north Surrey.

She came across Middlesex University’s new MA in Place Branding after researching the term and was the first person to apply for a place on the course, which started last September.

Iryna Mushtina with her son

Iryna Mushtina with her son

The mum, whose husband and parents are still in Ukraine, said the course would have helped her improve her campaign.

She said: “While I'm only at the beginning of my education, I already see many aspects that I could have improved in the project.

“This has become possible primarily because of the well-structured course, logical material, very well-chosen reading list and the balance between theory and practice.

“This is especially evident in our assessments.

“Moreover, the lectures – receiving practical experience from world-famous professionals in the area of place branding – are invaluable.”

Iryna is using the knowledge she has gained as she focuses on the brand strategy for Kyiv next.

But she reserved the biggest praise for another strength of studying at Middlesex, saying: “One more absolutely amazing aspect is the group of my peers, who are from different countries, with diverse experiences.

“I really enjoy our discussions; sometimes original ideas are born there.

“And it's improving my English more than any other language courses.”

The campaign stand at the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool

The campaign stand at the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool

Middlesex’s MA in Place Branding is the first postgraduate degree in the world that incorporates marketing, design, urban planning, governance, climate action, strategic planning, creative conceptualisation and problem-solving for cities, regions and countries.

Programme Leader Dr Giannina Warren said: “The innovative mix of place branding theory, research, and the practices of the profession integrated into this customised curriculum will really prepare students to develop their career in a strategic, creative and fast-changing marketplace for talent.”

Click here to find out more about the MA in Place Branding.

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