At least two study abroad programs are evacuating students from Ukraine as the crisis with Russia over control of the Crimea has intensified.
Eastern European Study Abroad, which as recently as Thursday said it did not foresee a threat to students currently studying in the city of Kharkiv – this was before Russia’s parliament authorized the use of military force in Ukraine -- on Monday issued an updated statement saying that its students would be evacuated within 48 hours. They will continue their coursework online, with “a possibility of continuing the semester in Ukraine, if the crisis is resolved peacefully.”
Renee Stillings, the director of the School of Russian and Asian Studies, said via email that the organization currently has two students in Odessa and that they are in the process of moving them to another location outside Ukraine. Odessa was actually already a backup location: the school had relocated the program there before the start of the semester because of concerns about the situation in the capital, Kiev.
“Odessa is still reasonably quiet, but the whole issue has taken on a much bigger dimension now internationally and as we have seen, Russia’s actions, while perhaps predictable to the Kremlin, are making heads spin in the West,” Stillings said.
“Interestingly enough, our students are actually there to study policy and conflict as part of their course. So from an academic standpoint they are in the thick of it. But at this point we need to get them out of what is increasingly unpredictable and have them finish their course from afar."
Two other universities and providers with semester programs in Ukraine – namely, Lock Haven University and Study Abroad Compass – said they do not currently have any students in the country. The American Councils for International Education, which administers exchange programs of various types and has an office in Kiev, likewise reported it has no study abroad students currently in Ukraine, although it was hosting one American researcher who departed for the U.S. last week.
“American Councils takes the Feb 28 update of the State Department Travel Warning regarding Ukraine very seriously and will authorize travel out of the country for U.S. staff members or their families, if requested,” the organization’s president, Dan E. Davidson, said in a statement. The warning called on Americans to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine and noted that Peace Corps volunteers left the country last Tuesday, Feb. 25.
“[American Councils] has also rescheduled two conferences on exchanges and alumni programs that had been previously planned for February and April in Kiev," Davidson said. “We hope very much that the present crisis in the eastern regions can be resolved peacefully and fairly for all concerned.”
A handful of universities have short-term study abroad programs for Ukraine scheduled for later this spring or summer. Iowa State University has canceled a summer program in Russia and Ukraine in light of the travel warning, as Radio Iowa reported.
The number of U.S. students studying in Ukraine is small: just 131 students studied there in 2011-12, according to Institute of International Education statistics. But Ukrainian universities host more than 61,000 international students, mostly from Asia and the former Soviet states, according to an article published last spring in the Chinese state publication, Xinhua. An article Monday in The Times of India noted that there are more than 4,000 Indian students in Ukraine, the majority of whom are studying medicine.