Ukraine’s academics appeal for international support

Serhiy Kvit, head of the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance of Ukraine and former minister of education and science in Ukraine, has called on academics worldwide to take a stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Following the beginning of a full-scale military attack on Ukraine by Russian military forces, involving the bombing of cities outside the separatist areas in Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has declared martial law in the country and all higher education provision has been put on hold.

Students and staff at Ukrainian universities have been told to stay at home until further notice, after Russia launched a military invasion in the country on 24 February.

Kvit said the situation is no longer about the threat of aggression but about “real war, the shelling of military infrastructure, airports and multiple peaceful cities around Ukraine” and about Russian tanks crossing into Ukraine and “Putin’s soldiers seizing Ukrainian cities and towns”.

He said this involves a “full pause” of any school and university activity, as many students and faculty had to urgently leave their places and some locations around Ukraine are cut off from electricity and internet connections.

Kvit, who is also a professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, said the war will involve the death of Ukrainian civilians, including children, as well as those fighting the invasion.

He said: “[The] academic community can’t keep silence on this unheard-of war. You, academics, know Europe’s history of the 20th century the best, the history of the Second World War and its consequences for Europe and the world.

“We call on universities, academic institutions in Europe and around the world to stand up with Ukraine against Putin’s regime, against ruining the fundamentals of peace, security and democracy in Europe and in the world.”

“It is our joint task – to defend democracy.”

He urged academic colleagues worldwide to make their voices heard with messages addressing international organisations, governments, colleagues and the wider population.

German rectors respond

The German government has ordered its universities to freeze academic relations with Russia while the European Union discusses whether to exclude the country from research networks and infrastructures following Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), said Germany’s Foreign Office has “recommended to freeze academic relations and in particular scientific projects with Russia”.

In a statement on 24 February sent to University World News, Alt sharply condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“This is a deeply depressing day. Our solidarity applies to the entire Ukrainian population and, above all, to our university partners,” he said.

“We are very concerned about the life and well-being of Ukrainian scientists and students. The German universities will assist them within the limits of their possibilities. It is also foreseeable that these developments will inflict severe damage on German-Russian scientific relations. We will have to examine the consequences accordingly.”

The war also affects the connections between Germany and Ukraine in higher education: Ukraine is one of the important countries of origin among the international students in Germany and universities now have the additional challenge of caring for the well-being of thousands of Ukrainian students who will be worried about their families as the situation unfolds.

In the summer semester of 2021, more than 8,200 Ukrainian students studied at German universities, HRK noted.

The HRK will explore the possibilities of continuing and shaping university and research relations with Ukraine and Russia together with scientific and academic organisations – in particular with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) – and in coordination with the federal government.

The universities of both countries are also institutionally diverse: at present there are 257 collaborative projects with Ukraine, in which 113 German and 89 Ukrainian universities are involved.

EU response discussed

The European Council meeting on Thursday 24 February was due to discuss a new round of sanctions, including blocking Russian participation in international research organisations.

The European University Association (EUA), which has more than 800 members, said in a statement on Twitter: “EUA stands in solidarity with our 26 members in Ukraine at this time. We are in contact with these members and will provide any support that we can in this difficult and distressing situation.

“EUA is fully committed to peace and co-operation, and hopes for reflection, restraint and a swift end to this crisis.”

The Czech Rectors Conference strongly condemned “Russia’s actions and its violent conquest policies”.

In a statement it said: “Every independent state has the right to make democratic decisions about its future and its direction. What Russia is doing is trampling not only on international law, but also on all the ideals of European civilisation and peaceful coexistence between European nations.

“With its latest steps, the Russian leadership is removing Russia from the community of civilized European states of the 21st century.”

It called on Czech politicians in cooperation with European partners and allies to take a “very active and proactive role in a rapid and decisive pan-European response to Russia’s aggressive actions”.

It said Czech universities stand ready to provide assistance to Ukrainian citizens in difficult life situations, especially students and academics, and to actively participate in humanitarian and other necessary assistance.

The Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE) voiced “all our support and solidarity to the academic institutions of Ukraine, its university communities and the population of this country in these difficult times. We want the violence to end and peace to be restored”.

The Global Student Forum, the European Students’ Union and the Ukrainian Association of Students issued a joint statement committing themselves to peace, detente and “serious pacification”.

They warned that the “right to study as a human right means protecting a context in which people can freely develop their possibilities, departing from an equal starting point, without the threat of armed confrontation endangering their education and livelihoods”.

They expressed “solidarity with the Ukrainian people and all the educators and learners in the country as well as in the neighbouring territories” suffering from a Russian “war of aggression”.