Everything you need to know about the UG and the war in Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shocked the academic community in Groningen. This war in eastern Europe affects the university as well. This is an overview of these consequences. It will be updated when there are new developments.

Wednesday night, February 23, the Russian army attacked Ukraine. The thing that analysts didn’t think was possible, had finally happened: war on the European continent.

Shortly after the invasion, the UG said it was ‘shocked’ by the developments. Under the banner of overarching organisation Universities of the Netherlands (UNL), all institutes have vowed to ‘support students and staff who are directly or indirectly affected by the situation’.

‘We’ve noticed the uncertainty among Ukrainian and Russian students and staff in the Netherlands. We’re doing everything we can to help them as much as possible.’

What can the UG do to help? How many students and staff members are personally affected by the situation? How does this affect the affiliations the university has with Russia? Will the war directly affect education and research in any way? After nearly two weeks of war, we take stock.

How many Ukrainian and Russian students and staff does the UG have?

Right now, forty-three Ukrainian and 105 Russian students are registered at the UG. There are sixteen employees from Ukraine and twenty-nine from Russia, according to UG spokesperson Anja Hulshof.

Is anyone currently on exchange?

As far as the university knows, there are currently no UG employees or students in Ukraine or Russia. But just because no one is there on an academic exchange, doesn’t mean people haven’t travelled there anyway. 

‘We don’t know what people might do for personal reasons’, says Hulshof. ‘I can’t rule out that some people might feel the need to go there because of what’s happening.’

What is the UG doing to help?

The UG sent a personal email to all Ukrainian and Russian students on Friday, February 25 to offer them help. ‘We sent two different letters, obviously’, says Hulshof. But the message was essentially the same: ‘We’re trying to lend a helping hand, to ensure that everyone who runs into problems because of this invasion knows they can turn to us. We’ll try to help each individual as best we can.’

As things in the warzone keep developing at a rapid pace, the personal consequences for people in Groningen are becoming more obvious. ‘People keep coming up to us with questions.’ Such as: What should I do if my visa expires soon? Where can I go for mental help? Where can I go for financial support? Where can I go if I want to help? 

The UG created both a Dutch and an English page on its website to inform people. 

Can the university provide any practical help and if so, what kind?

According to the UG, this depends entirely on the personal circumstances of the person asking for help. The university is currently in the process of setting up an emergency fund so it can provide financial support. 

In addition, the UG rejoined the Scholars at Risk network. This global network aims to protect academics who fear for their freedom, well-being, and their lives in their own country. The UG helped out an academic in danger by giving them a job last month.

Hulshof can’t say if this was someone from Ukraine or Russia. ‘We can’t provide any information on that, specifically because this person is in danger’, she says. ‘It concerns someone who was unable to do their job in their country of origin, which is why they came to us.’

What about the affiliations between the UG and Russia?

On Tuesday, March 1, the university announced it was freezing all non-university ties to Russia effective immediately. This put an end to the partnership with Russian gas company Gazprom in the New Energy Coalition, among others. 

What about the ties between the UG and universities in Russia?

While universities were keeping their options open until recently, education minister Robbert Dijkgraaf (D66) made an ‘urgent call’ on Friday, March 4 to freeze those ties, as well. Following countries such as Germany and Denmark, who earlier severed their ties, Dijkgraaf asked Dutch universities to sever ties with not just Russia, but also Belarus. This country is allowing Russia to attack Ukraine from its territory, which means it’s considered an aggressor in this war.

All Dutch research universities, universities of applied sciences, and teaching hospitals have frozen all ties with educational and knowledge institutes from Russia and Belarus effective immediately.

Will the sanctions have any noticeable effect on research and education?

Yes, in practice, freezing ties means no financial transactions will take place and no data or knowledge will be exchanged. No new collaborative projects will be started and researchers from Russian or Belarusian institutes will no longer be welcome as consultants or committee members to assess research proposals.

Where the UG is concerned, this will affect the Netherlands-Russia Centre (NRCe) and the Centre for Russian Studies. Hans van Koningsbrugge, Russia expert and director of both centres, received a proposal on Monday morning to organise a series of classes on people from the north of the Netherlands who used to work for Napoleon without the help of the centres’ Russian partners. A summer school programme at Moscow State University has been cancelled.

‘But it also means we no longer have access to the Russian archives’, says Van Koningsbrugge. That’s not just due to the Dutch sanctions, but also because Russia has put the Netherlands on their list of ‘enemy states’. ‘I visit the archive regularly and met several Russian colleagues there. But all those connections are useless now.’

Are there any personal consequences for students or staff?

According to the UNL, students and staff from Russia and Belarus that are currently in the Netherlands are allowed to stay. Minister Dijkgraaf also said on Friday that the government is reserving one million euros so knowledge institutes can support their Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian students.

While Russian and Belarusian students are currently still allowed to register at the UG, the university doesn’t know if that will continue. According to the newly created FAQ page, national policy could lead to changes in the (near) future. Students are advised to keep an eye on the IND and Dutch government websites.

UG spokesperson Hulshof does understand that students and staff are personally affected by the current developments. ‘You can imagine these personal circumstances can lead to problems for these people’, she says. It isn’t just Ukrainians and Russians who are affected, but also people from neighbouring countries.

‘We’re focusing mainly on people from Ukraine’, says Hulshof. ‘But people from Russia, or just outside of Russia, also find themselves in a precarious situation. They may have family in Ukraine. They also need to know that their faculty and the university will offer support with their personal problems.’

What are staff and students doing to help?

Many staff members at the UG want to help Ukraine. Dozens of staff members wrote an open letter to the UG, calling for emergency grants and expedited grant programmes to help students and academics affected by ‘Russia’s imperial war’.

A public Google Sheets document is spreading like wildfire on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media. The document contains a list of more than 520 positions open to Ukrainian academics all over the world.

Cristina Paulino, head of the electron microscopy lab at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, is one of the people offering a temporary post-doctoral position. 

The Faculty of Economics and Business came upon a similar initiative. The platform Science for Ukraine, created in Latvia with the support of, among others, the Polish Young Academy, also lists positions, either short-term or permanent, that Ukrainian academics can apply for. The FEB faculty council has asked the board to explore the option to make short-term positions available at the faculty.

The new interdisciplinary research group Human Mobility and Migration Lab is organising a meeting for students and staff on the humanitarian impact of the war in Ukraine. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 15, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Marie Loke room in the Harmonie building. 

The research group hopes to raise money for Giro55 relief action Samen voor Oekraïne via their digital collection box.

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