Ukrainian male students stopped at border

Published 12/09/2022

Male Ukrainian students are being blocked from crossing the country’s border to pursue their studies due to confusion about their conscription status, according to reports.

The European Students’ Union published a statement on September 8 expressing its disapproval of the ‘worrying’ circumstances in which students are being turned away.

“Until now, the students, postgraduates and doctoral students studying full-time were able to leave the country to pursue their studies under Ukrainian law via exit permission from the relevant military registration and enlistment office that would otherwise prohibit male citizens between the ages of 18-60 from leaving the country obliging them to serve as conscripts if called for,” the statement read.

“However, the hundreds of messages we received indicate that in recent weeks thousands of students have been denied their right to education as a result of bureaucratic uncertainty about the required documents, as well as unclear instructions on how border authorities should properly process students in order to guarantee the full upholding of legal provisions.”

A Ukrainian PhD student The PIE News has spoken to, who wishes to remain anonymous, said they were forbidden to leave the country to take exams earlier in the year – and it’s not just them.

“Everyone has different stories, but in general there are two groups of problems. The first is that the military committees of some cities are not giving permission to cross the border – in this case, they usually have all the documents needed,” said the student. The other problem students face is that the border service “finds reasons” not to let students through.

The document list necessary for international students who enrolled after February 24 was reportedly removed from the State Board Guard Service of Ukraine website in August, the student said. An announcement was also made at the same time that only those who were enrolled in university before the February date would be allowed to leave.

“It’s actually really important, especially considering that there’s the political will to let students leave”

“During the days of processing [visas], where students need to go to a military facility and ask for a certain permit just to be given the documents proving that they are entitled to leave the country following Ukrainian law, there is really a complete, overwhelming process,” Juan Rayón González, president of the Erasmus Student Network, told The PIE.

“In that regard that makes it very, very difficult for students to do it properly, and the instructions seem to be a bit confusing.”

The European University Association said if students are accepted for courses, and “if their departure from Ukraine is in line with the rules”, they should be allowed to go.

“Over the past two years, university administrations have demonstrated flexibility and non-detrimental treatment to international students during the lockdown,” Michael Gaebel, EUA’s director for higher education policy, told The PIE.

“Therefore we very much hope that this will be extended to the Ukrainian students.”

González added that the situation on the ground meant the need for clarification and prioritisation is paramount.

“It’s actually really important, especially considering that there’s the political will to let students leave. It’s very important to clarify the process and create conditions for all students, because once you leave the country or start your semester, you [should be able] do it and do it swiftly,” González noted.

Liaising with students on the ground, ESN reported that universities and the military commissariat are not cooperating. Students have claimed corruption had been at play, with old men enrolling for such permits.

The PhD student The PIE talked to also claimed that some men are attempting to obtain the permit via “forged documents”.

Both ESN, and the students talked to, implored European universities “to be flexible to help”, and that Ukrainian universities themselves should be “interested in supporting students” in a higher capacity.

The ESU said that it had been contacted by “hundreds of male and male-assigned-at-birth students” who had been blocked in recent weeks – just a month before the September start that hundreds of universities operate under.

“Ukrainian students fear being left behind or even expelled due to non-attendance in classes,” the organisation said.

“ESU stands for the right of students to move freely to pursue education and to uphold fundamental human rights, even in special circumstances such as war. We fear that closing borders and therefore preventing students from continuing their studies might lead to illegal migration, which in turn would have a worsening effect on their well-being and overall social situation during these difficult times.”

The PhD student reiterated that students and teachers are “not subject to conscription by law”, and given deferment every six months from conscription into the army.

“I requested permission to leave the country for three weeks to take my exams – I was denied verbally,” he recalled.

“Ukrainian students fear being left behind or even expelled due to non-attendance in classes”

The student said he was told to instead go to the university he was studying at in December when the reprieve expires instead as a teacher – but the procedure for obtaining permission is “vague and is not described anywhere”.

“As a result, some of the men manage to travel and solve scientific and research problems. But most of the male students, graduate students, doctoral students are deprived of such an opportunity,” the student added.

ESU has called for a swift resolution to the issue considering the time frame, imploring authorities to respect our common and shared European values.

“We call on the Ukrainian government to clarify the status of these students and indicate a clear path for them to reach their places of study, which must be diligently followed by the military administration and the border authorities.

“We furthermore call upon the higher education institutions with Ukrainian students enrolled to individually check their situation,” the statement added.

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