The Global Student Forum, European Students’ Union (ESU), together with the Ukrainian Association of Students (UAS), expresses its concerns regarding the situation Ukrainian male students have faced at the Ukrainian borders in the last few weeks.
We have been contacted by hundreds of male and male-assigned-at-birth (hereafter ‘male’) students who have tried to cross the Ukrainian border in recent weeks in order to start or continue their studies at Higher Education Institutions abroad. Until now, the students, postgraduates and doctoral students studying full-time were able to leave the country to pursue their studies under Ukrainian law1 via an exit permission from the relevant military registration and enlistment office that would otherwise prohibit male citizens between the ages of 18-60 to leave the country obliging them to serve as conscripts if called for. 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. Resolving this situation is especially urgent, as the academic year is starting in several countries and the Ukrainian students fear being left behind or even expelled due to non-attendance in classes.
The GSF, ESU and UAS stand 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. If not solved, students currently abroad might avoid coming back to see their families and friends out of fear of not being able to resume their studies. In the long run, brain drain would also be an unintended effect, if the young generation is prevented from studying now, which will hinder the rebuilding of the country in the future.
The European Students’ Union and the Ukrainian Association of Students urgently call on the authorities in Ukraine and at the borders to respect our common and shared fundamental values. In particular, 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 which have Ukrainian students enrolled to individually check their situation, provide them with assistance and make sure that this situation will not negatively affect their academic careers. Furthermore, we encourage our partners (stakeholders and policy makers, at the national and European levels) to address this issue and to work together to find solutions by putting the well-being of their students at the centre.