Ukrainian refugee students adjust to new lives at EU universities

When Vlada Yurevych arrived at her new university after a 29-hour journey by bus, plane and train that started in Rivne, Ukraine, a volunteer holding a Ukrainian flag was there to meet her.

“I was so moved that someone in Finland wanted to take me home,” says Yurevych, a 19-year-old psychology student who will complete her bachelor’s degree remotely from her Ukrainian university at the University of Eastern Finland ( UEF).

She adds that there is a different style of teaching at the Finnish university: “The professors make jokes and are very easygoing.”

Yurevych is one of thousands of university students who have left Ukraine since February and are now navigating different education systems, applying for temporary protection or the right to stay and preparing for the academic year, all while facing the disruptions and distress of war. at home.

Across Europe, universities and governments have offered different levels of support, from reduced or waived tuition fees to language courses and welcome packages.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that around 7.5% of Ukrainian refugees are in the age group of 17-24, which is “based on 4,800 intention surveys conducted among of Ukrainian refugees across Europe from August to September 2022”.

From difficulties faced by male and international students leaving Ukraine to applicants hesitant to leave their country, offering a place of study is only the first step, says Outi Väyrynen, coordinator of international mobility services at UEF, whose Joensuu campus is about 70 kilometers from Russia. .

The university welcomed 18 Ukrainian students, many from the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions, offering flexible start dates and developing more courses in English.

“It’s more of a solidarity effort to allow them to study in a safe place,” says Väyrynen.

In the Netherlands, 17-year-old Maria Chernova, a first-year undergraduate, had planned to study architecture in her hometown of Odessa, but is now at the University of Applied Sciences in Breda.

From her host family, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour train journey, but Chernova says she’ll use the time to read for her degree in built environment.

Finding closer accommodation was difficult, as was the bureaucracy of living in a new country: “I had help from my host family and charities, but if I hadn’t had support ?”

Since joining the American University of Bulgaria (AUBG) in April, sophomore Marko Mazepa, 19, has helped the university organize events for Ukrainian students and refugees.

Having started her degree remotely due to COVID-19 and visa issues, the university understood when war disrupted her studies from Lviv and was on guard during a difficult border crossing.

“We have received support from so many places. I can’t wait to pay it back,” he says.

Many universities have taken an increasingly flexible approach to helping Ukrainian students navigate the complexities of assimilating homeschooling with new degrees, visa and asylum applications, and obtaining a housing.

Typical procedures for transferring students, such as ensuring course material overlaps from one university to another, had to be reconsidered to meet the humanitarian need, says Dr Alán Alpár, vice-rector for international studies at Semmelweis University in Hungary.

Neighboring Ukraine, a government-backed program will pay 1,000 students to study in Hungary, including Ukrainian students and international students from Ukrainian courses.

A medical school in Budapest, Semmelweis, will host 150 Ukrainian students under the program, mostly non-national students from South Asia and Africa.

“We don’t know what will happen to these students, but we are taking that risk,” says Alpár. “They are in a very difficult position, so we are trying to help.”

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, 76,548 international students from 155 countries are enrolled in Ukrainian universities.

Shahzeen Yusuf, 23, an Indian medical student who was in her fourth year of medical school in Kyiv when the war broke out, says she is grateful to have a second opportunity to complete her studies in Budapest – the city where she and his friends fled after the outbreak of war outside.

“Going to Hungary alone is like living a different life and leaving another in Ukraine,” says Yusuf, who initially hoped it would be possible to return to Kyiv to continue his studies.

“But I found an apartment here and the university is within walking distance. Even the weather is nice – it doesn’t snow as much.

With a protracted conflict in Ukraine, universities and governments across Europe are considering longer-term plans for refugee students, from how to manage degrees to accommodation and ongoing tuition costs.

UAF, a Dutch organization that supports refugee students and professionals in their studies and employment, hopes that the lessons of this crisis can help refugee students from Ukraine and elsewhere.

“A long-term view of education and language learning will be good for rebuilding Ukraine when people can come back,” says UAF policy adviser Pepijn Tielens.

“From a wider Dutch point of view, it would be good if this welcoming environment and these possibilities were available to all refugees.