Support offers for refugees: academic gateways

When Tamara Martsenyuk hosts her webinar, around 30 students currently log on. Currently, 85 students are taking the course. “I don’t know what happened to the others,” says the associate professor of sociology and gender studies, who teaches at the University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. “I hope you don’t have stable internet access right now, but…” She swallowed, not finishing her sentence.

Tamara Martsenyuk fled to Berlin in early March and is safe. But many of his students are still in Ukraine. If the sociologist can hold her seminar from an office in Berlin, it is thanks to a bridging grant from the East European Institute (OEI) of the Freie Universität. It is intended to help researchers at risk from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus by giving them time: three to six months to submit requests for third-party funding or to apply for other scholarships. It is time to continue supporting students despite the war.

Many Russian university leaders support attack on Ukraine

The Freie Universität launched the call for scholarships on March 18. Since then, he receives about five applications a day, says Mihai Varga. The doctor in sociology is in charge of research at the OEI and coordinates the reception of applications. 15 scholarships were awarded. “Scholarships are particularly important for Ukraine, as they allow colleagues to continue their teaching activities,” says Mihai Varga. “We don’t ask them to teach with us, so they can focus on the activities of their universities.”

However, most requests come from Belarus and Russia, explains the scientist. Unlike applicants from Ukraine, those applying from there must demonstrate that they are at risk in their own country. After the outbreak of the war, many Russian university administrations declared their support for the Russian attack on Ukraine.

In February, the Freie Universität suspended its relations with academic institutions in Russia. “Freie Universität Berlin strongly condemns the Russian government’s war,” university president Prof. Günter M. Ziegler said in a speech available as a video recording on the Freie Universität website. Freie Universität Berlin’s liaison offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg have been closed, and all research collaborations and financial transfers have been suspended.

Academic exchanges with Russia are suspended

Student exchanges and the strategic partnership with St. Petersburg State University have also been suspended. With this, the Freie Universität interrupts a decade of exchanges with Russia. Nevertheless, people are still welcome at the Freie Universität, regardless of their origin.

As early as 1968, the Institute of Eastern Europe, still young at the time, concluded the exchange agreement with the State University of Saint Petersburg, then the Zhdanov University of Leningrad. Since then, students from Berlin have traveled year after year to Russia to experience their research topic up close.

The Freie Universität also maintains close partnerships with Ukraine. In September 2021, the two-day conference “Days of Ukraine” took place in Dahlem. The occasion was the 70th anniversary of the Eastern European Institute and the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence. Researchers from Berlin, Brandenburg and Ukraine were able to network and extend their cooperation. At Freie Universität there are partnerships in the European Union Erasmus+ mobility network with the universities of Kyiv, Odessa and Lviv. The Free University cooperates with the National Mechnikov University in Odessa within the framework of the Leonhard Euler program of the German Academic Exchange Service; the program supports binational research projects with funds from the Federal Foreign Office. In a joint statement of intent, cooperation between Freie Universität Berlin and the Kyiv School of Economics and the Institute of International Relations at Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv was also agreed.

Teaching from Berlin.  Tamara Martsenyuk (r.), professor of sociology and gender studies, holds a transition scholarship from the East European Institute at Freie Universität;  Tetiana Kostyuchenko (left), lecturer in sociology, is a scholarship holder of the Science Bridge program set up by the Pôle d'Excellence SCRIPTS.  Photo: Bernd Wannenmacher


Teaching from Berlin. Tamara Martsenyuk (r.), professor of sociology and gender studies, holds a transition scholarship from the East European Institute at Freie Universität; Tetiana Kostyuchenko (left), lecturer in sociology, is a scholarship holder of the Science Bridge program set up by the Pôle d’Excellence SCRIPTS.
© Bernd Wannenmacher

Another project was launched in March. In collaboration with historians from the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam e. V. (ZZF), teachers from the Institute for Eastern Europe and other experts have already visited more than 60 classrooms in Berlin and Brandenburg. They speak to young people from the fifth of the Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe after the Iron Curtain, they help with the historical classification of the war. There are also specific training courses for teachers.

One of the participating scientists is Robert Kindler. He is a visiting professor of history at the OEI. “The idea came spontaneously to our institute because there was a great need for information from all sides,” says Kindler. “As the ZZF had started such a project not long before, we were happy to get involved.” When he visited the schools, he was impressed by the number of students who had already dealt with the subject. “Your questions were very thoughtful and went well beyond the media headlines,” says Robert Kindler.

One of the classes the historian attended was Thorsten Frauenkron’s ninth grade. He is a professor of philosophy and German at the Leibniz-Gymnasium in Bergmannkiez in Kreuzberg and was one of the first to ask for an interview with a student. “The event was worth it,” says Frauenkron. “Afterwards, children were no longer afraid of war because they could understand it better.” His students brought with them so many nifty questions that the double lesson with Robert Kindler was barely enough, says Frauenkron. He also learned a lot from the conversation. “In class, we talked a lot about children’s concerns,” explains Thorsten Frauenkron. “But I couldn’t answer a lot of the questions myself, so the conversation was the perfect starting point.”

The work helps the teacher to endure the situation

Tamara Martsenyuk, the professor from Kyiv, has also been answering many questions since her arrival in Berlin. Every day, she speaks to media editors from different countries, writes specialized articles, participates in demonstrations, attends university events and prepares seminars and conferences. She would like to say more about her research, Ukraine, and her anger against Russia. But even that day, she’s on her way to a demo. The main thing is to do something.

“Thinking about war makes me infinitely sad,” says the scientist. “The more I throw myself into work, the better I can hide it.” The scholarship therefore helps him much more than financially. “I can do a lot more here in Germany than in Kyiv, I can contribute instead of having to watch the destruction of my country without doing anything.” His brother and his parents stayed in Ukraine, they work in hospitals. During the few free minutes that Tamara Martsenyuk gives herself, she thinks of her family. And to its students, especially those who no longer log in to the webinar.

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