In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, president Volodymyr Zelensky enacted martial law and banned men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.
Initially, students already enrolled at foreign universities were exempt from the rules but this changed later in the year when border guards discovered documents being forged by ‘fake’ students in order to escape the country.
Since September 2022, students have been unable to leave Ukraine for university and students already abroad cannot return to their home country as they may not be allowed to leave again.
Some boys under the age of 18 are choosing to leave the country early to study abroad and circumvent the ban.
A student group in Ukraine described the rules as “undemocratic, discriminatory and unfair”.
“The absurdity of the situation is that sportsmen can go abroad, students of Ukrainian universities can leave [temporarily for competitions and projects], but students of foreign universities who have been studying there for a long time still cannot… and some have already been expelled,” said a spokesperson from Students UA, a Ukrainian campaign group set up to protest the restrictions.
A new report from Human Security Lab, a think tank based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, called on the Ukrainian government to lift the entire travel ban for both “strategic and humanitarian” reasons.
“Although the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine had called on foreign universities to provide online education for their Ukrainian male students, war-affected Ukrainian students state such online classes are often inaccessible due to electricity shortages, resulting in a denial of their right to an education,” the group’s report noted.
HSL found the majority of the Ukrainian public opposed the travel ban or wanted changes, based on a survey of over 4,000 internet users.
“It is very sad and painful to see Ukraine losing the opportunity to educate students”
Students UA has contacted the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman about the issue, but have been told the EU cannot interfere in the implementation of Ukraine’s national laws and regulations.
“It is very sad and painful to see Ukraine losing the opportunity to educate students who could build and develop their country in the future,” Students UA said.
The PIE has contacted the Ukrainian government for comment.