International Student Crisis in Ukraine as Russian Invasion Develops


In the early hours of Thursday, February 24th, 2022, we saw an unfortunate violent response to growing political tensions between Ukraine and Russia, with Russian troops advancing into Ukrainian territory. Bombings in major cities in eastern Ukraine, like Dnipro and Kharkiv, met Ukrainian citizens and residents with much distress and panic. With heightened levels of insecurity and fear, Ukraine is experiencing a mass exodus of citizens and international residents seeking safety and shelter in neighboring countries: Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova. 

The European Union estimates that approximately 4 million people may attempt to flee Ukraine as this situation unfolds. A particular demographic of the international community in Ukraine is the steadily growing number of international students who have been particularly adversely affected by this unpredictable season. According to Al Jazeera, Ukraine is host to 76,548 international students from 155 countries globally. Indian students make up most of the demographic, followed by Moroccan students.

For several reasons, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries have grown in popularity as international student destinations over the past few years. Firstly, the aggressive marketing of their higher education institutions, especially where medical studies are concerned, has been instrumental in opening up new alternatives for students seeking to leave their home countries to pursue higher education. Secondly, the institutions in these countries are significantly cheaper than the popular student locations in North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom, making them even more lucrative options for students. Tuition fees for a medical course at a well-recognized Ukrainian university cost approximately $4,000. a sum regarded as a significant selling point for Ukrainian higher education institutions and other similar institutions in the region

Most international student communities are based in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, located on the eastern side of the country. This is the same city where the initial Russian bombings occurred, putting students at greater risk as they try to evacuate and seek help from Ukrainian authorities. Since the start, international students of African, Indian, and black descent have reported facing harsh racial profiling and discrimination while attempting to cross Ukrainian borders. Unambiguously, border officials are making their attempts to find safety even more difficult and emotionally distressing. 

According to Nigerian student Jessica, “They said if you’re black you should walk.” Many black and African students in Ukraine have shared their harrowing experiences on social media under the hashtag “# AfricansinUkraine. This has caught the attention of several global leaders and institutions, like Nigerian President Mohammed Buhari and the African Union, who have condemned this profiling in public statements that were released throughout the week. Lastly, unfortunately, it has also been reported that at least one Indian and one Algerian student have lost their lives in Kharkiv as they tried to flee the city.

As of March 1, 2022, 1,396 Indians studying in Ukraine have been evacuated back to their nation’s capital, New Delhi, with more arrangements in place to carry out more evacuation trips for Indian nationals in Ukraine. The first group of  17 Ghanaian students also arrived in Accra on the morning of Tuesday, March 1st. However, a larger group of students are still stranded in Ukraine or its neighboring countries. Hence, why have they been expressing their frustrations to major news outlets as their governments are not responding with the necessary arrangements and urgency that this situation calls for?

The aftermath of these mass international student evacuations could further deepen the dent that the Ukrainian economy is experiencing and will continue to experience as it recovers socially, politically, and financially. This is important because the average international student in Ukraine spends approximately $7,000 per academic year, which contributes a total of $542 million to the country’s gross domestic product annually. 

Surprisingly enough, even amidst the current situation that’s struck the nation, students have expressed their intentions to hopefully go back to Ukraine and resume their studies. to avoid major disruptions to their academic progression, raising hopes that there will still be a significant inflow of money from the international student community post-crisis.

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