US institutions offer grants to Ukrainian refugees

Andriyana Baran spent the 2020-21 academic year in the United States as a Fulbright Scholar, serving as a teaching assistant and helping develop online curriculum for the University of Kansas at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She then returned to her native country of Ukraine to work as a language teacher for Teach for Ukraine, an NGO similar to Teach for America. She planned to live in a small town in eastern Ukraine for the duration of her two-year contract.

But when Russia invaded the country last February, it had to be evacuated.

So she returned to KU – this time as a Ph.D. Candidate – and became one of the many Ukrainian students currently benefiting from scholarships offered by US colleges and universities. In the past 10 months, a number of US institutions have launched programs to support Ukrainian students on their campuses, from large public universities like Texas A&M University to small liberal arts colleges like Mount St. Joseph University, a Catholic institution with about 2,000 students in Cincinnati.

Reuters reported in August that more than 150 universities have offered some form of support to Ukrainian students since Russia invaded the country, closing campuses and expelling students and making it impossible for them to continue their studies. Support ranges from waiving certain application requirements to full funding of tuition, room and board.

For Ukrainian students, enrolling in a college in the United States offers a welcome respite from the horrors of war at home. At the same time, their knowledge and experience greatly enriches the campuses they visit, whether they are undergraduate or graduate students, spending one or every four years.

“Giving displaced students access to continue their education can be a life-changing opportunity that can offer hope at a time of deep uncertainty. It is also transformative for campuses to expand the lived experiences of their student body,” said Laura Wagner, director of refugee student initiatives at the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a consortium of higher education leaders focused on increasing understanding of the Improving publicity for how immigration works Policies are having an impact on campus, says Within the Higher Ed in an email.

Bard College is the latest institution to open its doors to Ukrainian refugees and announced in November that it will bring 60 students to its various campuses, most of whom will start next fall.

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It won’t be the first time Bard has supported student refugees. In 1956 the college took in more than 300 refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The New York college recently took in 60 Afghan students displaced after the country’s government collapse, with four more scheduled to join in January.

“Bard believes that universities should be responsible civil society actors and should take action as such, particularly when education is under threat,” said Jonathan Becker, Bard’s vice president of academic affairs and director of the Center for Civic Engagement.

Bard’s Emergency Assistance Program for Ukrainian Students offers at least one year of free tuition to every student who enrolls. According to a university spokesman, the grants will total between $5 million and $6 million and will be funded through private philanthropy.

Large and small programs

Not many institutions have the capacity to accommodate as many students as Bard. The Institute for Slavic, German and Eurasian Studies at the KU, for example, raised enough money to host four Ukrainian doctoral students, including Baran, for a year, as well as a professor who now works at the Institute for Film and Media Studies.

“It was a situation where a number of people were involved. We have a graduate of our department who owns a catering business and has a venue, and he offered the venue for free,” to hold a fundraiser, said Chair Ani Kokobobo of the Slavic and Eurasian Languages ​​and Literatures Department. “Colleagues in the Department of Theater and Dance offered some of their faculty to come and perform the war poetry free of charge for entertainment. The music school faculty came and volunteered to perform. So it was very down to earth.”

The university then matched the funds.

Kokobobo said the larger community in nearby Kansas City is eager to support the event. Although the city does not have a large Ukrainian population, many locals became familiar with the war through the news — including broadcasts featuring Ukrainian KU faculty members describing the horrors their families endured — and a university-hosted teach-in .

Baran, the KU doctoral student, cites the generosity and support of the local population – not only during the war but also during her time as a Fulbright scholar – as a highlight of her time there.

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“I’m madly in love with the Midwest,” she said. “The people here are warm and open-hearted. They are always willing to help and at the same time extremely respectful; They care. I don’t even know how to put it.”

Some Ukrainian students even stayed with local families, Kokobobo said.

In addition to teaching, some of the Ukrainian PhD students at KU are also helping to revise the curriculum for the university’s Introduction to Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia course to make it less emphasizing Russian history and more representative of the surrounding region.

“They teach it, but they also revise it, because the field itself has become very focused on Russia, and I think it’s really important that these Ukrainian scientists come and refocus,” Kokobobo said. “I think that’s also important to them to change the intellectual paradigm.”

Freshmen in Buffalo

For US institutions with pre-existing ties to Ukraine, accepting refugee students is an easy decision. The KU maintains a long-term study abroad program at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. Bard also has strong ties to the region through study abroad and summer programs in Russia and Kyrgyzstan; Becker himself worked as a volunteer teacher in Ukraine in the early 1990s, just as the country was gaining independence.

But universities with no previous experience of hosting refugees or working in Eastern Europe have also reached out to Ukrainian students. D’Youville University, a small private college in Buffalo, NY, last academic year invited 10 Ukrainian freshmen to attend the institution beginning this semester with promises that they will receive full funding for their four years of tuition, receive board and lodging.

Students were mostly 17 years old when they started in the fall, since Ukrainian secondary school finishes a year earlier than American high school. D’Youville executives worked to make the transition as easy as possible for the young students, driving them directly from the airport to the university, housing them in the dorm on the same floor, and providing them with necessities such as toiletries and linens.

“At 17, they’re trying to achieve independence and maturity in a whole new country that’s dramatically different from their country, and they’re worried about family and friends,” said Denise DiRienzo, the university’s chief mission officer.

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Wagner of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration said universities should take a “whole campus” approach when preparing to accept displaced students.

“It is important to be aware of the unique needs and benefits that a forcibly displaced student brings to campus. Students are more likely to be successful when there is cross-departmental collaboration, from international student services to dorm life to dining services and financial support for faculty to ensure the campus is welcoming, culture-aware, and trauma-informed,” she wrote.

With many students concerned about their legal status and the safety of family members still in Ukraine, it can be particularly important for universities to offer psychological and legal services, she noted.

A Ukrainian student at D’Youville, Yaroslav Malynych, said he was looking for opportunities to study outside of Ukraine, when a friend of his brother’s delivered a note that the New York college intends to welcome Ukrainian freshmen the following semester. He emailed the university’s president with his resume and received an almost immediate response asking him to accompany her to a Zoom interview later that week.

At the end of their meeting, Malynych said he was (unofficially) admitted.

Malynych had only been to the US once before – as a 3-year-old while his parents worked in South Carolina – so it wasn’t surprising that there was a culture shock when he stepped off the 18-hour flight and saw the campus for the first time.

“Obviously it was shocking because it was all new territory and a long flight so we were exhausted and tired,” he recalled. “The next day, almost all of the Ukrainian students gathered, and we walked around the campus, took a walk in downtown Buffalo.”

Since then, Malynych has taken full advantage of the beautiful scenery in upstate New York, visiting Niagara Falls and several state parks. At the end of his first semester, the chemistry student is excited about what the rest of his time at D’Youville – and in the USA – will bring.

“In general, I like this feeling that there are many opportunities. If I want to achieve something, all I have to do is work and learn,” he said. “That’s pretty much it.”