Concerns over Egyptian students in Ukraine, Russia increase

After Ukraine’s attack on 8 October 2022 on Kerch Bridge, that links the Russian mainland to the Crimean Peninsula, Russian missiles and drones rained down on several cities across Ukraine, hitting several academic institutions. The Belgorod region of Russia, which borders Ukraine, also came under attack.

As a result of this dramatic escalation of the war in Ukraine, the Egyptian Ministry of Emigration and Expatriate Affairs held a virtual meeting with 69 Egyptian students in Ukraine and Russia to monitor their well-being. The meeting took place on 16 October 2022.

About 3,500 Egyptian students, nearly 4.6% of the total number of international students in Ukraine, mainly studying medicine and engineering, form the third-biggest group of African students in the country after Morocco and Nigeria, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science.

However, an official at the ministry of emigration and expatriate affairs has indicated that about 85% of Egyptian students in Ukraine have already returned to Egypt or transferred to European universities in neighbouring countries.

Approximately 8,731 Egyptian students study in Russia – 2.8% of the total number of international students in Russia and the biggest group of African students in the country, according to Study in Russia – the official website about higher education in Russia for international students.

Electricity crisis looms

Ayman El Gammal, the Egyptian ambassador in Kyiv, said the situation in Ukraine is unstable, especially after the bombing of 11 Ukrainian cities and the striking of power plants, which produce about 80% of electricity in Ukraine. “If events continue in this way, it will be very difficult to live under these conditions, especially as we are on the verge of winter,” El Gammal said.

Regarding Egyptian students in Ukraine, El Gammal explained that Ukrainian universities were requested to collect all data and documents of Egyptian students and communicate with the students, pointing out that the Ukrainian authorities have signed agreements with several European universities to transfer Ukrainian and foreign students from Ukrainian universities.

El Gammal stated that the remaining Egyptian students in Ukraine must decide whether they want to transfer to any European universities or complete their studies in Egypt. This is in line with a statement the ministry of foreign affairs issued on 14 October 2022, calling on members of the Egyptian community in Ukraine to exercise caution and anticipate that the situation might deteriorate.

It also called upon them to reduce unnecessary movement and to avoid dangerous areas. The ministry recommends that members of the community prepare to return to their homeland via safe overland routes through neighbouring countries.

Embassy keeps close contact with students

During the meeting, Nazih al-Nagary, Egypt’s ambassador to Russia, said the situation in the country is stable, except for the Russian city of Belgorod, adding that students in the city were told to apply in case they wish to be transferred from their universities in Belgorod to universities in other Russian cities.

He said that the Egyptian embassy in Moscow has already received applications from 200 students asking to complete their studies in universities in other Russian cities. There are also some students who prefer to return to Egypt.

In the statement, Nagary said: “Egypt’s embassy in Moscow is following up on the critical situation of Egyptian students in the Russian city of Belgorod, which was bombed in the past two days.”

Nagary explained that the embassy is continuously communicating with the almost 1,100 Egyptian students in the city to check on them and answer all their questions.

The city of Belgorod, the regional capital, has a population of 400,000 and lies just 80km from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. According to reports, schools and universities in the Belgorod region are switching to distance learning.

Students studying in Russia who attended the virtual meeting indicated that removing some Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system (the financial messaging infrastructure that links the world’s banks) has caused difficulty in getting money transferred from home. As a result, they could not pay their tuition fees. Some Russian universities charge a penalty for delayed payments.

Ukrainian academic institutions under fire

According to reports, several Ukrainian academic institutions in the capital, Kyiv, were under attack, causing them to switch to remote teaching.

One rocket slammed into Kyiv’s Shevchenko Park, blowing out windows at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv’s science library, its Institute of Philology, the National Museum of Natural History, and the ministry of education and science. Also damaged in the blast was the headquarters of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Science reported on 14 October 2022.

A series of explosions were reported on 10 October 2022 in the central districts of Kyiv, also close to the Shevchenko University where students were attending classes , when students were going to classes, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported. The organisation said that, in southern Ukraine, a university, residential houses and warehouses were reportedly hit in Mykolaiv city, although no casualties were reported.

The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine is quoted in the UNOCHA report that, as of 23 September 2022, almost 300 educational institutions have all but been destroyed and at least 2,500 have been damaged. By 1 September 2022, only 70% of higher education institutions had approved a bomb shelter which is required for contact studies to continue.