Russia-Ukraine tensions mar rectoral poll with stolen ballot box

Prime minister upholds reselection of reformist rector after masked, dye-wielding men try to spoil and steal vote

二月 16, 2022
Protesters in Ukraine
Source: Getty

As tensions over Russian encroachment on Europe’s eastern fringes come to a head, fears over pro-Moscow interference have extended into unlikely territory: the election of a new rector for the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NaUKMA).

Police were called to the institution last month after a group of masked men broke into a polling station, stealing a ballot box and pouring green dye into another.

Because the stolen box was quickly recovered with no signs of penetration, and the dyed ballots were still readable, the university election committee decided to recognise the result, delivering victory to Serhiy Kvit, currently head of Ukraine’s higher education quality assurance agency.

But, shortly after the result was announced, Ukraine’s education minister, Serhiy Shkarlet, took to social media to call for new elections.  

That provoked protests by staff and students, leading to the Ukrainian prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, meeting with Dr Shkarlet and NaUKMA representatives, and the cancellation of the rerun order.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Kvit claimed that opposition to Dr Shkarlet among NaUKMA staff and students, and his agency’s findings that the minister plagiarised his own academic work, “influenced” the call for a rerun.

“That is why, I think, there is a very unfriendly attitude both maybe to me and to our university,” he said. Under Ukrainian law, only the academic community can choose a university head, with the education minister signing their contract. 

Some see a political side to the attempts to undermine the election of Professor Kvit, who served a previous term as president of NaUKMA in the years before the Maidan protests overthrew a pro-Russian government in 2014, and was appointed education minister afterwards.

“The plan is to discredit and disrupt the students and academic staff of the two top universities in order to create discord in society at a time when there’s an external threat,” said Mychailo Wynnyckyj, director of NaUKMA’s doctoral school, asserting a link between the electoral disruption at his institution and allegations of sexual harassment levelled at Volodymyr Bugrov, rector of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.

Dr Wynnyckyj said it was “suspicious” that the heads of two leading Ukrainian universities would be discredited at the same time. “Any kind of ability to take an active portion of society and to channel energies into other things [is] obviously to the advantage of our eastern neighbour,” he said. 

Professor Kvit said that provocations against NaUKMA were “similar [to] other provocations against Ukraine, of course, because our university is very important publicly”, although he stressed that he was not accusing Dr Shkarlet of complicity with Russia.

Professor Kvit said that he was ready to go to court if his contract was not signed within the one-month window given in law. Until then, students at NaUKMA have planned more protests calling for that signature and Dr Shkarlet’s resignation.

Anatoly Oleksiyenko, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong specialising in post-Soviet higher education, noted that NaUKMA traced its roots to a Jesuit college created before the formation of the Russian empire.

“The DNA of this university is resistance to authoritarian rule [and the] managerialism of the current administration,” he said.


Print headline: Russia tensions mar Kyiv election



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Reader's comments (1)

Good article