Academics fear that the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, which has destroyed many universities and research centres and caused thousands of students and academics to flee the country, will cause a long-lasting brain drain, a community webcast hosted by the European Association for International Education (EAIE) has heard.
With all research put on hold and many students and lecturers forced to hide in cellars and bomb shelters for hours on end, Ukrainian academics are counting on their European colleagues – and others around the world – to continue supporting them as the bloody conflict rages, and in the longer-term reconstruction of Ukraine’s universities and research facilities.
That was one of the key messages during the community webcast on 1 April by Ganna Tolstanova, vice-rector for research at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, and Sophia Opatska, vice-rector for strategy implementation at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
The webcast also touched on the need to be sensitive when talking about support for Ukrainian students and academics in the same breath as Russian and Belarusian scholars, and why only Ukrainian women can currently take up offers to study or work abroad while hostilities continue.
Tolstanova said at least 20% of her students and 10% of lecturers had already relocated their families abroad since the Russian armed forces invaded Ukraine on 24 February – and the number moving to other parts of the country was much higher.
Support when hostilities cease
She said initiatives like Science for Ukraine and support from individuals and higher education institutions helping students, lecturers and researchers abroad “make us strong”, but she emphasised that the new connections and networks created in the midst of war would be just as vital when hostilities cease.
“The big hope is that Ukrainians who have moved abroad will come back and bring their new experience and scientific connections [with them] for the reconstruction of Ukraine’s higher education system,” said Tolstanova.
Opatska told the EAIE webcast: “Ukraine is in a very devastating situation. On our own we cannot achieve what we want to achieve and protect democracy and the values of a democratic society.
“Every day we are losing lives and the university is doing its best to know where its students and faculty are. People don’t know the day of the week, but they know which day of the war it is.”
Despite her university being in the relatively safer western part of Ukraine, Opatska crossed into Poland for the safety of her family together with millions of others leaving the country.
She said her university had been transformed in a matter of weeks into a refugee centre for those escaping the worst fighting in eastern Ukraine and students were focused on humanitarian aid rather than lectures.