Universities in the Ukrainian Conflict

“These are among the darkest hours for Europe since World War II”, told Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine this morning in his Press Statement, “A major nuclear power has attacked a neighboring country and is threatening reprisals on any other state that may come to its rescue”.

In the early hours of Thursday February 24th, 2022, Russian forces entered Ukraine from the north, south and east and there are reports of deaths at military bases and explosions near major cities. According to the official Russian statement, “Today Russia has begun a special military operation aimed at protecting the people who for the last eight years have been subjected to abuse and genocide by the regime in Kyiv”. Poutine says that the Russia’s aim is the demilitarization of Ukraine.

Consequently, people are trying to flee the capital Kyiv and other regions. Ukraine’s western neighboring countries and other European countries, such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldavia as well as Finland and Germany, were among the first to prepare for the flux of refugees from Ukraine. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi also made a statement earlier in the day that UN and partner organizations would provide humanitarian assistance in case of emergencies.

Since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in February and March 2014 and backed armed separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, civil society and public institutions were harmed. Many universities in the separatist-backed regions had to relocate themselves, at the initiative of faculty staffs and students. A Council of Rectors of Displaced Universities was set up in January 2016 to coordinate activities. Meanwhile, in the areas controlled by separatist forces, two self-styled republics ‒ the so-called Donbas People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) ‒ were created in 2014, with their own governments and Ministries of Education. These republics run so-called “shadow universities” which use same names and claim similar legacies as the relocated Ukrainian universities, even as they are not recognized by the Ukrainian government. This creates an extremely complicated and precarious situation in the higher education in Ukraine.

In the 20th century in Europe, the first and the most famous university in exile was the Ukrainian Free University (Ukrainische Freie Universität, Український вільний університет). It was founded in Vienna in 1921, then relocated to Prague, at the initiative of exiled Ukrainian professors, writers, journalists and students who fled the country following the failed Ukrainian liberation efforts after the First World War and the Russian Civil War. The aim was to establish a private university outside the borders of Ukraine. In 1945, the university moved to Munich where it still runs as a higher education institution recognized by the Bavarian state government.

Veronika Durin-Hornyik PhD

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search