Ukrainian students stuck at borders need urgent help

“I am a young, highly motivated student. I have been preparing for this step to study abroad my entire life, but I am about to miss out on this opportunity due to circumstances beyond my control.

“If you are a student at a foreign university, you are legally permitted to leave Ukraine. Following that, some people began using falsified acceptance letters from foreign universities in order to leave the country legally. As a result, our authorities prohibited all students who enrolled after the war began from crossing the border.

“The semester has already begun, but we are stranded at the border, unable to enrol or attend our classes officially. We will most likely be expelled from universities if nothing changes.

“We have all of the necessary documents to prove that we have been accepted. We have certificates for departure abroad from Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence, which means that the army does not need us as long as we are studying. Please assist if you can.”

Hundreds of Ukrainian students who are about to start their studies abroad have found themselves in a similar situation to the student above in the last weeks. They have been trying to inform the public about what is happening, but have been struggling to make their stories visible and their voices heard.

According to Ukrainian law, assigned-at-birth male citizens between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine, as they are included in the lists of mobilisation for military duty.

However, students are not part of such lists, which should allow them to leave the country and pursue their education abroad if they have been admitted by a higher education institution abroad.

Uncertainty about documents

Such a right is being hindered by uncertainty about the required documents and a lack of clarity about how the Ukrainian border authorities should process such requests. This has resulted in a general tendency to not let them leave the country.

The problem has been exacerbated by the urgency of the situation: in many countries the academic year is starting and many students fear losing scholarships or being expelled from their universities due to non-attendance at classes.

For transgender students this situation is not new, since transgender women have been denied the right to leave the country because their passport says they are male.

If this situation is not tackled and solved immediately, it could have a ripple effect. There is a risk, in fact, that closing the border could lead to students migrating through illegal routes, which would have a significant impact on their mental health and overall social situation at this difficult time.

It could also lead to a brain drain as Ukrainian students currently abroad might avoid coming back to visit their families and friends for fear of being denied the right to leave the country to resume their studies.

Finally, suppose those students currently enrolled at higher education institutions abroad are denied the right to study: there is the risk of losing a generation who will be crucial for the rebuilding of Ukraine after the war.

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