Ukrainian students lack ‘sensitivity’ at Dutch universities

Feelings of misunderstanding, sadness and frustration dominate the last few weeks for Ukrainian Maria Shaidrova. The 28-year-old has worked as a PhD student at Tilburg University (TiU) for five years, but has since the war focused mainly on Ukraine. Maria is from Irpin, a suburb of Kiev. There have been tough fights in the city in recent weeks. She expects ‘help and involvement for Ukraine’ from the people of the Netherlands, but the help from Dutch universities mainly led to disappointment in Maria.

It started for Maria with an email about the war from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), where in 2016 she completed a master’s degree. The content was amazing. Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian students could receive support from the university. “In the email, they were addressed as one group.” She then saw similar postings from other universities on Facebook. Although the universities, according to Maria, “not everyone says the same thing”, the core remains the same for her. “It gives the impression that the war is being experienced in the same way by Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians.”

This shows a bit of ‘sensitivity to the position of the Ukrainians’, says Maria. In recent weeks, she has sent letters and emails to universities with “at least 175 Ukrainian students and alumni” asking them to adjust their reporting and assistance initiatives. NRC talked to nine of them. They are registered at universities throughout the Netherlands.

Freeze cooperation

According to various spokespersons, the messages from the universities were largely based on the letter from the ministry. In the letter to, among others, the umbrella association Universities of the Netherlands (UNL), Minister Dijkgraaf (Education, D66) requested that partnerships with educational and knowledge institutions in Russia and Belarus be frozen. The ministry also made 1 million available to support Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian students. Currently, about 495 Ukrainian, 1146 Russian and a few Belarusian students are studying at a Dutch university. In addition, 134 Ukrainian and 413 Russian employees work in the Netherlands.

UNL announced in a press release that it would freeze all partnerships with Russia and Belarus. The Umbrella Association also states that assistance is offered to ‘Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian students and staff at Dutch universities’. And that “emergency funds will be set up at all universities for Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian students and staff in the Netherlands, who run into money problems as a result of the war”. Universities also provide “psychological help” as needed.

Also read: ‘Ukrainians are not used to doing nothing’. But a job in the Netherlands is not easy to find

Maria believes that universities should take into account how the different groups experience the war. Now she says, “Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians are all portrayed as victims.” According to Maria, it does not take into account that in those groups there are also people “who do not disapprove of the war” because “80 percent of Russians voted for Putin”. She does not believe that Russian and Belarusian students do not deserve help, but that “it should be discussed how someone views the war”.

Ukrainian Daryna Oratovska (28), an alumnus of Utrecht University, agrees. According to her, universities could have maintained a tactful way of communicating. In addition, she would have preferred “that separate emergency funds be set up by universities with separate guidelines for each group”. The news hurts her now, because “my donations to the emergency fund can go to people who can support the war.”

The Ukrainian embassy is ‘deeply concerned’ about the Common Emergency Fund

Russian student Arina, 19, would also have “preferred to see the aid differently.” She will not use her last name NRCafraid of negative reactions. Arina does not intend to apply for money from the emergency fund. It is not necessary yet, she has a Dutch savings account. She would also have liked to see the money from the emergency fund first go to Ukrainian students.

She talks a lot with Ukrainian friends and family about the war and feels “responsible”. Not as a person, but as a “Russian”. For the things Putin “does in the name of Russia.” She finds it “hard to say” whether 80 percent of Russia has rallied behind him. According to her, few Russians dare say Putin against.

In one study, most universities say they are “sensitive about sensitivity” but “want the best for all their students.” A UvA rapporteur stated that the university “has and feels a duty of care for all current students affected by the war”. And the spokesman for Utrecht University says that “the university does not want to hold students responsible for a war that they themselves can not do anything about”.

Embassy activated

Universities try to take into account the sensitivities. For example, ‘Utrecht’ organizes separate meetings about the war, and the help from the emergency fund is a gift to Ukrainian students and a loan to Russian students. “Because Russian students are expected to be able to access their money again after the sanctions are lifted.” General meetings have been held for ‘all students’ at UvA. Also, “small-scale collections have been organized specifically for Russian or Ukrainian students.” Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) organized general walk-ins for all students, but makes it clear with regard to the payment of emergency aid that this does not apply to ‘students with parents on the sanctions list’.

That is not the end of the matter for Ukrainian students and alumni. They asked the Ukrainian embassy to contact the Ministry of Education and universities. In a letter, seen by the NRC, the embassy says that “they have received complaints about the reporting from the universities” and that they are “deeply concerned about a common emergency fund”.

The umbrella association writes in a reply to the letter to the embassy that “they have never intended to equate those affected by the war”, but that they “will help all those who experience the consequences of the war”. The Ministry of Education states that it has no knowledge of the letter, but that a conversation has recently taken place with the Ukrainian ambassador. Education also believes that the institutions themselves must decide how and in what way they support the students. However, the ministry has recently decided to make an extra 2.5 million available for students from Ukraine.

Also read:This report on a Ukrainian host family in Hillegom

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