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Award to recognise courage of Ukrainian academics

Image: sb2010, via Getty Images

Scholars at Risk will present award at conference for universities affected by conflict

Ukrainian academics are to be honoured with an award recognising their resilience amid the ongoing Russian invasion of their country.

A representative of Ukraine’s Mariupol State University will accept Scholars at Risk’s Courage to Think Award on behalf of “all of the scholars of Ukraine” at a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 26 June.

SAR is an international network that defends academic freedom and the rights of researchers and students. Its award will recognise Ukrainian academics’ “courage, resilience and unwavering commitment to their teaching, research, students and higher education institutions, despite the existential threat posed by war”, SAR and the European Humanities University, which is hosting the conference, announced on 10 June.

Resilience amid destruction

Since Russia stepped up its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, at least 59 universities have been damaged and nine destroyed by Russian shelling, the organisations said, citing Ukrainian government data.

Mariupol State University was one of the first to be destroyed and now operates remotely from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, after previously being displaced during the first Russian invasion in 2014, they said.

“Yet scholarly responsibilities have increased…playing a crucial role in shaping public engagement and discourse in the country and abroad,” SAR and the European Humanities University said of the situation since 2022.

“Researchers have advocated for remote fellowships for Ukrainian scholars unable to find safe refuge abroad, collected data about damage to research infrastructure and connected fellow scholars with assistance programmes.

“Other activities include publishing special issues about Russia’s war on Ukraine in internationally renowned academic journals, fostering public engagement efforts through webinars and podcasts, attending conferences in Europe and North America and advocating for universities to support Ukrainian students and scholars.”

‘Exceptional and inspiring’

SAR executive director Robert Quinn said: “The courage and dedication of the scholars of Ukraine is both exceptional and inspiring.

“Exceptional in withstanding such a prolonged and violent assault, including repeated bombardments, occupations, and displacements on a mass scale. Inspiring in their demonstrated solidarity and creativity in supporting each other, their students, and their institutions.

“They put their careers, and at times their lives, on the line because they know that the future of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people depend in good part on research and teaching that supports rebuilding, inspires and empowers young Ukrainians, and defends Ukrainian nationality and culture against the current attempt to eradicate them.”

The awards ceremony is part of a broader three-day conference that will explore “the experience of academic communities confronted with exile due to political turmoil, repression, disasters and conflicts…from Belarus to Myanmar, Afghanistan to Ukraine, Turkey to Sudan, Nicaragua to Israel/Palestine and beyond”.

SAR is an organisation of more than 650 institutions in more than 40 countries that support academics who have been affected by war. The European Humanities University used to be based in Minsk but was forced into exile by the Belarusian government in 2004.