While Ukrainian law states that students will not be conscripted to fight in the war against Russia – some fear being thrown off courses will result in them losing their student status, in turn making them eligible for military service.
In September 2022 male students between the age of 18 and 60 were told they were unable to leave the country to study at foreign institutions.
The ban was put in place after the Ukrainian government reported mass forgeries of documentation for travel out of the country – with 600 people being found at the border using such forged documents.
Since then, a petition has been launched which has been signed by over 25,000 people, calling for the Ukraine government to allow students to leave the country.
Following the petition, the government has attempted to work with European countries to make sure online learning is available for Ukrainian students, but the rule has still not changed.
The PIE News spoke with Students UA, a group that is campaigning for the ban to be lifted.
“Ukrainian students are expelled because they haven’t started their education process abroad and haven’t arrived,” a student representing the group, who did not want to be named, told The PIE.
“I know many Polish universities have provided online education because Poland is one of the countries where there are lots of Ukrainian students…But mainly in the Czech Republic, in Hungary, and Germany, Ukrainian students are being expelled.”
The student claimed that online learning isn’t available at all institutions as it might have been during the Covid-19 pandemic, as sometimes there might just be one Ukrainian student in a class.
“In reality most students have been expelled from their universities because many universities in Europe can’t provide online education for Ukrainian students… there can be situations where the Ukrainian student is only one person, so it is impossible for professors to lecture us.”
The student said there are fears that if somebody is thrown out of their university they could lose their student status which protects them from mobilisation.
“When he is expelled, he loses this right and he can be taken to the army,” the student told The PIE.
The PIE spoke with another 19-year-old student from Kharkiv, who is enrolled at an institution in Poland. He said he expects to be thrown off his course soon if he is unable to take exams and also said that remote learning was not feasible due to power outages.
“I need to get to school. I cannot study remotely. Every day they turn off the lights. I have a right to an education,” he said.
The student from Students UA echoed these concerns around remote learning.
“I am in Kyiv, and because of constant bombing I’ve had no electricity at all for three whole days. How can I study, and how can other students study in such a situation?”
How can I study, and how can other students study in such a situation?
The PIE contacted the Ukrainian government and the European University Association for comment, but did not receive a response.
Seeking a solution
Members of Students UA have contacted the European Commission asking for them to help find a solution that enables them to leave Ukraine.
In a letter seen by The PIE, Pawel Busiakiewicz, head of unit at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, told the students that the EU could not interfere in the implementation of Ukraine’s national laws and regulations.
This, according to the letter, included those laws made while exercising the country’s inherent right of self-defence, which “may limit the possibilities for students to leave the country to take up offers to study at universities in the EU”.
“We remain in contact with the authorities and count on them to provide information on this issue to the Ukrainian public in a clear and timely manner,” the letter said.
The European Students’ Union has told The PIE that it has “repeatedly urged” the Commission to find a solution with the Ukrainian government.
“These students are, in all respects, EU students, since they are studying in EU higher education institutions. We reiterate our call to find a solution as soon as possible,” a spokesperson said.
Some have questioned the legal basis of the ban, including Oleg Lukyanchikov, a lawyer based in Kharkiv.
He told The PIE that according to the Constitution of Ukraine, the ban on leaving Ukraine can only be established by law and that the law does not prohibit men from leaving during wartime.
“There is no official document that prohibits the departure of men from Ukraine during wartime. This fact has already been recognised by the courts,” he said.
Students told The PIE about the emotional impact of the ban, saying that if Ukraine wants to become a member of the EU, it should “support human rights”.
“Russian and Belarusian students can study and move to EU countries. Russia is a terrorist state… it is impossible and unimaginable. How can students from a terrorist state study but Ukraine students cannot?” one told The PIE.