Ukrainian students and academics ready to fight Russian invaders

Unexploded bombs and civil resistance corps on campus are now part of life in Ukraine, explains minister turned university president

February 28, 2022
Source: Getty

After Russian bombs rained down on Kyiv, students and staff returned to campus – but only to join civilian resistance groups, ready to fight occupying troops in the streets of Ukraine’s capital city.

“We have today welcomed a territorial defence unit, and teachers, other members of staff, and students are participating in it,” Serhiy Kvit, the newly elected rector of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NaUKMA) told Times Higher Education.

Professor Kvit, who was on his way to meet civilian defence commanders at NaUKMA’s central Kyiv campus as he spoke, described efforts by “villagers armed with Molotov cocktails [stopping] tanks and armoured vehicles in their tracks” as being “inspiring for students and teachers”.

THE Campus resource: How to run safe and secure online meetings and calls

Asked if students had taken hold of weapons, or created Molotov cocktails – as chemistry students at nearby Kyiv Polytechnic Institute were reported to have done – Professor Kvit said: “I’ll see soon – the Finnish invented the Molotov cocktail so we’re now calling them ‘Bandera smoothies’,” he joked, after the anti-Soviet Ukrainian independence leader from the 1930s and 1940s. “I don’t know exactly who will do what but we have a lot of volunteers.”

Shortly before Professor Kvit spoke, several NaUKMA students had a narrow escape after a Russian bomb landed next to their dormitory on the outskirts of Kyiv but did not explode.

“There are about 25 students still there – most have gone home – but these ones are from eastern Ukraine, so it is safer for them here,” he explained. “We decided not to move them because it is impossible to travel by bus or car – they would be a moving target – and only the subway is running.”

The university has suspended its normal operations – while many other institutions in eastern Ukraine have been evacuated altogether – but classes have still been held to allow students to speak to each other.

In an earlier conversation with THE, Professor Kvit appealed to scholars and institutions overseas to support his country and “stand up with Ukraine against Putin’s regime”.

He called on universities, academic institutions in Europe and around the world to make their voices heard and petition their governments to act.

“You, our academic colleagues worldwide, can [and] should be heard with your clear and loud message of support to Ukraine.”

Asked this week if he was shocked by the prospect of students potentially carrying guns on campus, Professor Kvit, head of Ukraine’s quality assurance agency and previously the country’s education minister, said: “Not really. I could imagine this situation because we are dealing with Russia – the Chechnya conflict showed us what could happen and it has given us time for preparation,” he said.

“They have lots of money from their oil resources, but we are a very united society – our people are so motivated, so I am optimistic.”

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Reader's comments (1)

The bravery of Ukranian students and staff is humbling. They need support but British universities are not telling its staff or students where they can donate money to support universities in Ukraine. I thought this would be in the news but nothing. Sad