Ukraine’s universities gear up for fresh academic year in times of war

Lviv, Ukraine, 20 Aug (EFE).- Universities in the Ukrainian front-line cities of Mykolaiv and Kharkiv are gearing up for a fresh academic year despite Russia’s targeted shelling of educational facilities.

During an online discussion organized by the School for Policy Analysis at Kyiv Petro Mohyla University, academics said that damage to their buildings and equipment and a brain drain as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were the top challenges universities faced ahead of the 2022-23 academic year.

“Evacuation of a university to a safer location is still not an option,” said Vasyl Karpusha, rector of Sumy State University.

Together with his colleagues from Mykolaiv and Kharkiv, which have been the target of relentless Russian shelling, Karpusha said his university was intent on recruiting as many new students as possible.

“Our university was left relatively unscathed by the shelling, with only about 110 windows blown off by the blasts,” said Karpusha.

The main issue, he added, was the brain drain the war has triggered with many staff already living abroad.

Yuriy Kotlyar, vice-rector at Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University in Mykolaiv, has been dealing with even larger problems after the university was the target of two missile attacks this week.

Two missiles damaged the main building of the university on Wednesday, blasting off several hundred windows and doors. The following attack was even more destructive and part of the building collapsed on Friday.

“Two other universities in Mykolaiv had their main buildings damaged by missile attacks in July,” Kotlyar told Efe. “We did everything we could to prevent such an attack on our university after some Russian telegram channels posted information about Ukrainian soldiers having their base in the university buildings.”

The university invited local TV crews who shot an uninterrupted, several-hour-long stream showing all university buildings to prove there were no troops or military equipment there.

It didn’t help.

“It’s part of the Russian terror campaign. They are trying to destroy our future by destroying our universities,” Kotlyar warned.

But the resilience of Mykolaiv’s residents is not to be underestimated.

“The day after the first attack, while the rubble was still being cleared, I met a woman with her granddaughter as they were looking for the admissions office to submit an application.”

Lessons learned during the Covid pandemic mean educational centers are equipped with online education alternatives, Kotlyar added.

While the number of applications from graduates has dipped enormously, the university has retained around 85% of its students.

But the university also relies on foreign students which make up 25 % of its alumni, Anatoliy Babichev, vice-president of Karazin University in Kharkiv, one of the largest in Ukraine, said.

“We have lost about 10% of our assets to the bombs and missiles but the war has made us look more actively for friends and partnerships abroad,” said Babichev.

Universities have urged the government to construct modern bomb shelters onsite to protect students looking to the future. But hopes that such a program could be enacted soon are slim as the national education budget has already been shaved by 10% and is expected to decrease further.

EU-funded projects have provided some relief, allowing for research activities to continue.

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