The Realities and Survival Strategies of Evacuated Universities in Ukraine – by Dr. Milana Nikolko in conversation with Dr. Illia Kononov

Part 1. 2014 – 2022

War is bringing enormous stress to people and social institutions, changing the lives of millions forever. Among many victims of Russian aggression were Ukrainian universities and, in some cases, this dreadful experience of the war and forced relocation first appeared in 2014 and once again was repeated in 2022, but with much more devastating consequences. During the war, universities may also be targeted for attack or destruction (Kharkiv University in 2022), leading to damage or destruction of buildings, equipment, and educational materials. This results in the loss of valuable resources, as well as the disruption of academic programs, leading to damage or destruction of buildings, equipment, and educational materials. Furthermore, the social and political instability that often accompanies times of war can lead to divisions within university communities and a breakdown of trust and cooperation between students, faculty, and administration and mass migration.

The life on of T. Shevchenko Luhansk National University was first dramatically shaken during the winter of 2014. The regular university routine was disrupted by Euromaidan when the university public was divided into two camps, some students and professors were in support of Revolution of Dignity, others were frightened and didn’t feel connected to the event. With growing separatism and the appearance of military personnel without insignia on streets of Luhansk, the university community was disoriented, many felt abandoned and lost. That year the university term was shorter than usual, but the staff managed to complete the educational process, and many believed that the conflict would be over by the time of beginning of new term in the fall.

The summer of 2014 become a decisive moment for many professors and students. The front line was moving dramatically and in the beginning of the fall, the Ministry of Education issued an order to evacuate universities and other higher institutions from the un-controlled zone. The slow process of the evacuation can be explained by many factors, including the genuine hope among political elites of Ukraine to regain control over the territories of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in short time, but also because of lack of funds, and specific administrative procedures. For example, Ukraine’s Ministry of Education would only issue an evacuation order once an initiative group of students, teachers and administrators had been set up at the university level that could take responsibility for the move.

All together sixteen universities and ten higher education institutes were relocated in 2014, and majority of them were starting their new chapter in Eastern part of Ukraine[1].  The Luhansk National University suffered dramatically from relocation, leaving behind the established material base, large campus and many students and professors.  During the summer 2014, the university “clone” occupied the campus in Luhansk and started to simulate the work under the separatist’s administration.

It took a long time for evacuated university to start a new life in Starobilsk. From 2014 to 2022 many new buildings, including dormitory for students and professors were erected and the educational process was finally getting back on track.

The brutality of Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 had much more severe consequences for Luhansk National University’s staff and students. This time evacuation was much more chaotic, the part of administration was evacuated, but many professors and students were left behind. The city of Starobilsk was occupied on March 02, less than ten days from the beginning of occupation.

[1] Pidgora, Nikita. 2017.Ukraine’s displaced universities. Source

Dr. Milana Nikolko is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, Carleton University.

Dr. Illia Kononov is a Visiting Professor in the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, Carleton University.