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“So much violence and cruelty”: Ukraine academics describe invasion

Academics in Ukraine are endeavouring to help international students keep safe or even leave the country as fighting continues between the country’s army and Russian forces. They are doing so while they themselves are in constant danger.

Many partners from universities abroad are "ready to give shelter". Photo: Pexels

Melnyk and her university colleagues are also trying to help the international students still stranded with her

On March 3, Russian soldiers were instructed to bomb a nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, in the south east of the country.

“I was called by my mum, and she told me the station was destroyed. Fortunately, it turned out not to be true because I know what this would mean,” said Olena Melnyk, head of international project division of the research coordination office at Sumy National Agrarian University.

Melnyk, who is an associate professor of ecology and botany at the university, told The PIE that the devastation could have been so catastrophic it would have been six times as bad as the blast in Chernobyl in 1986.

“They didn’t hit the power station or reactors, but hit some training buildings close to them, and only one reactor was on at that time. I also understand that by sharing such information, Russians are trying to blow up the spirit of Ukrainians.

“This morning, we are getting our things, we are getting our bags – we are ready to be evacuated if corridors will be opened for us,” Melnyk explained on March 4.

As of March 7, an evacuation is still out of reach as safe escape routes out of the country continue to be postponed. The priority now is to try and evacuate international students, but possible provocations from the Russian side remain a concern.

Reports suggest around 1,700 international students in total are currently trapped in the city. Melnyk said that on television, Russian president Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov have been planting rumours that Ukrainian nationalists are more dangerous to the international students than Russian forces, despite constant shelling on the city.

The city where Melnyk lives now is barely 20 kilometres from the Russian border and almost 1,000 kilometres from the border with Poland to the west. Together with colleagues, the university is still trying to help the international students that remain stranded with her in the north-eastern city.

“Our university provides necessary food supplies and conducts constant conversations with Turkish and other embassies to organise international students’ evacuation – the situation is not clear now and we cannot risk their lives,” she said.

Melnyk explained that many partners from universities abroad are ready to give shelter and temporary job placements for Ukrainian professors.

“Our university provides necessary food supplies and conducts constant conversations with embassies”

While some colleagues would prefer to stay in Ukraine, some, especially with children, are ready to go to Poland, Lithuania and other countries – they are also looking at the possibility of going to the UK using their “simplified” visa application.

“Nobody wants to rely on donations from foreign governments and they are ready to work hard to help their relatives who stayed in Ukraine. All of them have a strong belief to back as soon as the war is finished,” she added.

However, this new scheme has not yet helped a great deal, as it was announced on March 7 that only 50 Ukrainians trying to flee have successfully obtained UK visas.

Irina Volovyk, the chief of international affairs at Dnipro State Agrarian and Economic University, told The PIE News that when she found out about the invasion, her first thought was of her son, a university student in Kyiv.

He was already attempting to leave the capital, heading west to Lviv, when news of the invasion broke. “It was some of the longest hours of my life, trying to find my son,” she said.

“[My son] walked from Kyiv to the west alone and I was hearing news about bombs and attacks from Russians along the way”

“He walked from Kyiv to the west alone and I was hearing news about bombs and attacks from Russians along the way. In 24 hours, he reached Lviv and I started breathing,” she explained.

She is currently still stranded in Dnipro with her parents, her university colleagues and her students, with reports from security officials currently indicating that Russian troops are planning to encircle the city.

“Our plan is to defend the independence of our country, and to rebuild our cities and villages from ruins,” Volovyk declared.

“How many universities and schools are destroyed by rockets and bombs? And why?

“Solidarity and support is our key success factor. This war is unfair, without any reason, and it feels like it is a sacrifice of Ukrainians to give the rest of the world time to wake up – please wake up immediately,” she said.

Melnyk is also attempting to help those who are still in her company.

“It’s too soon to know what’s happening – we have a lot of students from abroad… they are living in cellars, and we don’t know how to help them,” she said.

“How many universities and schools are destroyed by rockets and bombs? And why?”

She also explained that her own hometown, nearer to the border of Russia, was almost completely destroyed – lots of people, including children, were killed and others had to hide in cellars as Russian troops looted a gas station and destroyed buildings – shooting “everything” in sight and “taking people prisoner”.

“I could not even imagine at the beginning that this war would involve civilians, with the bombings, and the attack on the nuclear power plant – there is so much violence and cruelty on the Russian side,” added Volovyk.

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