One Russian Biomedical Engineering student, studying at an English university, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has told The PIE News that online abuse targeted towards Russians has left her feeling anxious when seeking employment and internships opportunities.
“I understand the anger coming from people, especially Ukrainians, but that also makes me more cautious in the real world due to these comments I see online.”
The student is preparing for her year in industry placement and, during the interview process, was anxious that she would be discriminated against.
“I wasn’t sure if there would be any discrimination against Russians in general”
“My worry was the fact that I won’t be able to find a job as I wasn’t sure if there would be any discrimination against Russians in general,” she said.
Her anxieties were eased when the interview went well and she was offered the job, which she is “very grateful” for.
The student said that although she has enough funds to be able to afford rent for her year in industry, this not the case for all Russian students studying overseas.
“Many of my Russian and Belarusian friends are stuck with £500 in cash until their cards start working again. Russian Visa and Mastercards are now blocked everywhere abroad and no-one can pay or take out any amount of money, essentially leaving many of us with no money and no stable income, as many don’t have a part-time job,” she told The PIE.
“One of my friends couldn’t afford to pay for her rent, but with the help of my British friends we were able to find her a place to stay for a month while she is starting to earn some income to be able to pay for her own rent,” she added.
Despite the financial limits forced upon her, this Russian student has made it a priority to support Ukrainians in need.
“I wanted to donate to help the ones who are suffering, but I am scared to do that as it is illegal to do so in Russia. Even though I would be using my English card to do so, I’m still worried that it would be traceable and something may happen to me or my family back home. Luckily my friends were there to help me out and I am able to donate through them. It might not be as serious as I think it is, but it puts my mind at ease that way,” she said.
The student commented that she was “slightly surprised” by the support from her peers, lecturers and university as the university sent out an e-mail regarding the mental health and financial support for both Ukrainian and Russian students.
A Russian masters student, studying in Bordeaux, France, who has also chosen to remain anonymous, reported changes in people’s facial expressions when they realise she is Russian. She had one uncomfortable interaction with a lecturer who questioned her political position in front of a class after hearing her speak Russian on the telephone to her father.
“There was no aggression in her questions, but that was definitely unprofessional and intolerant. The whole group was not happy with her behaviour,” she told The PIE.
Luckily, the student, who lived in Ukraine for the first seven years of her life and still has close ties with the country, is surrounded by an international group of classmates, made up of 13 nationalities, which she describes as “delicate”, “supportive” and “united”.
“They always ask if it is okay to pose questions about our feelings, our families and our thoughts before actually asking,” she said.
Additionally, her university has created a team of staff to specifically support the wellbeing of Russian and Ukrainian students. The team reached out to the student to check if she needed assistance with issues such as bullying, visas and banking and have instructed all university staff to be considerate towards Russian and Ukrainian students.
“They really do this. What surprises me mostly is that the way they speak to us seems to be sincere… I anticipated it to be formal, but no, they are trying to show us that they care.”
Meanwhile, university faculties and unions have taken to twitter to publicly condemn the general abuse and harassment of their Russian students, including the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law which wrote “it should not have to be said, but abuse and harassment of our Russian students because of the acts of the Russian government have no place in our community”.
Bournemouth University’s branch of University and College Union also made a public statement.
In the US, educational consultant and the founder of New York Admissions Dana Haddad told Insider that her Russian clients had had their kids “be bullied, based on what’s going on”.
“You’re Russian; you’re bad. You can’t come to this party. We don’t want to go out with you,” were some of the comments she described.
One UK MP, Sir Roger Gale, has made calls for Russian children in UK private schools to be sent home saying, “It’s harsh, but they should go.”
Tatsiana Lizahub, director of Anglia Education Consulting, told The PIE News that she is aware of a few incidents of students making discriminatory comments towards Russian pupils within UK boarding schools but these cases were dealt with immediately by house staff who made it clear that “national discrimination will not be tolerated”. Lizahub ensures that both Ukrainian and Russian students feel supported, with many of them mentioning how they feel “safe” and “understood”.
According to Lizahub, the agency’s partners have also been supportive.
“Several of them emailed us a letter of assurance that they do not link the nationality to the actions for the particular people,” she said.
Sharif Safi, Afghan Chevening scholar, spoke at The PIE Live, sympathising with Ukrainians and simultaneously calling for kindness to Russian students in the UK as “they are not responsible for the war”.