Dissident student: Estonia’s Russian visa ban a ‘death sentence’

Union questions the benefits of cutting short the studies of hundreds of Russian students

August 11, 2022
Clock of the Church of the Holy Spirit made by Christian Ackermann, Tallinn, Estonia
Source: iStock

Some students have criticised the Estonian government’s decision not to issue study visas to their Russian peers, some of whom fear fatal consequences if they are forced to return to their home countries. 

The Tallinn government has updated its April sanctions package against Russia to cover student visas, with foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu saying the sanctions were “essential to ensuring relentless pressure” on Russia. 

But the Estonian Association of Student Unions (EYL) has strongly opposed the visa ban and said the “rigid approach” would mean some students would be unable to finish their courses. 

The union questioned “what kind of positive effect the expulsion of students already obtaining higher education from the country has”, as it will “not particularly affect” either country, but would have a “very significant impact” on the several hundred students midway through courses. 

Daniil Martikainen-Jarlukovski, a journalism and communication student at the University of Tartu, told Times Higher Education that returning to Russia would likely mean “certain death”. 

He said he came to Estonia mainly to escape Russia, as it is difficult to claim political asylum and the country offers good higher education for free for those studying in the Estonian language. 

He said his anti-government activities meant that returning would lead to him either immediately being drafted into the Russian army, or sent to prison where he would face “all kinds of horrible torture”. 

As a result of the amendment, Russian students like Mr Martikainen-Jarlukovski have to return to Russia within 270 days of 1 September. If the law is not revised, he plans either to join Ukraine’s Freedom of Russia Legion, which is made up of Russian dissidents and deserters, or go to Armenia, which offers visa-free entry for Russians. 

“Taking dissidents’ opportunities to flee away and sending them back to become cannon fodder or prisoners won’t help anyone but Putin, especially if the EU continues buying Russian natural resources,” he said.

“Many students like me already have taken part in fighting against Putin, perhaps we could one day lead a post-Putin Russian state, but for that we need help and not tickets to certain death.” 

The EYL has asked the government to introduce exceptions to the law for students already studying in Estonia. The union said it had not yet received a response from the government, which did not respond to THE directly. 

Hundreds of student activists in Russia have been expelled for taking part in anti-war protests, with those allowed to stay often facing threats and other intimidation

Western-based Russian academics who have called for academic ties to be cut with Russian universities have also said Western universities should not turn their backs on Russian students.


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