Edi year abroad students in Russia feel ‘abandoned’ by uni with rising tensions in Ukraine

Many are concerned by a lack of communication regarding a possible evacuation plan

Several University of Edinburgh students on their years abroad in Russia have told The Edinburgh Tab that they feel “abandoned” by the uni in light of rising tensions on the Russia/Ukraine border.

Despite the generally calm attitude amongst Russians, the current situation in Ukraine is causing considerable concern among the approximately 20 third year languages students studying abroad in Eastern Europe and Russia.

One student claims she has repeatedly contacted the uni to ask about possible evacuation plans should these tensions flare up and Russia does invade Ukraine. On one occasion, she was directed to contact a different staff member – and then referred back to the original person she spoke to.

Others have told us they think the uni has been “uncommunicative” and has done little to ease their fears which has made them think “there is no plan to get us out should the worst happen”.

Rosa Swaddle, a third year Russian student in Riga, alleges she after contacting a staff member about her concerns she was told to email someone else – who told her to email the original staff member she spoke to

The tension along the Russia-Ukraine border has been slowly simmering since December 2021. As of now, in February 2022, Western powers have attempted to act upon Russia’s growing confidence and military presence via diplomatic retaliation. US President Joe Biden has sent American troops to Eastern Europe and other NATO allies have offered their support.

Yet Edinburgh University students in Russia told us that if you were to ask the average Russian if they were worried about the possibility of another world war, their answer would be a calm and certain “no”. Many even consider the actions of Western leaders nothing short of hysteria Despite this, the students we spoke to were deeply concerned by the situation – with one telling us that the Russian media has increased the level of anti-western propaganda shown.

The news of the Downing Street parties has been discussed in the Russian media

Many are unhappy with the university’s response in light of these clearly escalating tensions. Rosa Swaddle (who is now studying in Moscow) told The Edinburgh Tab:  “I’m not sure what to think because the university hasn’t given us a clear answer of what to do in the event of Russia invading [Ukraine]. Given the lack of any kind of plan, I can only assume that the university will not be able to adequately help and safely get us home.”

She compared her experience to other foreigners in Russia at the minute:  “A friend from America told me that the American Embassy in Russia approached her and told her that if Russia invades, then she and her family will have to leave immediately. If a random American family in Russia can be given a clear answer of what to do in the event of Russia invading, why can’t our university do the same for students it is responsible for.” 

Edi students on the metro in St. Petersburg

An Edi student in St. Petersburg echoed these concerns – and added that they were worried about how quickly the uni would act in the event of an invasion: “I have faith the university would eventually be able to find a way for us to return home, however, I believe I would be long gone before official plans have been made by the uni”. 

“Fortunately, I am able to rely on my own savings and familial help for emergency transport, but I am aware that a lot of students here may not have the means to do so. I am not sure if the university’s primary priority would be getting us out of Russia or the lengthy process of checking to make sure they are covered by insurance before doing so.”

Others we spoke to stressed that the lack of communication from the uni was troubling. Catherine, currently studying in Riga, said: “the university has been generally quite uncommunicative over the course of my year abroad so far. Apart from liaising with them regarding risk assessments and insurance I’ve heard from them maybe three instances specific regard to St Petersburg specifically, Russia, Ukraine, or visa issues.”

“Personally, I’ve felt that certain specificities have been overlooked – such as being told that should we travel home for Christmas we wouldn’t be under the University’s insurance as it wouldn’t be classed as essential travel, even though we are on fixed-date visas and needed to leave Russia, and I was sent an email after two months of living through the Russian winter asking if I had had an enjoyable Autumn in France. I genuinely don’t know if this was an administrative oversight or they actually don’t know what country I’m living in.”

Catherine, and many other students studying Russian, received an email which was for students studying French.

Others feel safer knowing that they are covered by the University’s insurance policy, SWAY. Max, who is studying in St Petersburg, explained to The Tab that “the university travel insurance covers repatriation or evacuation costs to the tune of £25m. I’m not worried for myself. As for Ukraine, it’s unlikely that Russian troops will actually head to Kyiv. The uni will always follow FCDO advice when they tell you what do to. Currently, Russia is fine to go to, Ukraine isn’t.” 

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “We have a responsibility to act in the best interests of our students and to take decisive action when there are concerns for safety and wellbeing. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is advising against all but essential travel to Ukraine. We can therefore no longer approve travel to Ukraine until the situation has been resolved.

“We are working closely with students to minimise the impact of any disruption to their studies and to provide alternative placements. We will review arrangements when FCDO guidance changes.”

If you have any concerns about your safety during your year abroad, you can contact the University of Edinburgh via +44 (0) 131 650 2257 24.

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