Go back

Students complain they are being prevented from leaving Ukraine


European Students’ Union estimates up to 10,000 people are being affected

Student representatives have raised concerns that border authorities in Ukraine are preventing people from leaving the country to study, saying this is happening even though students are supposed to be excluded from laws drafting men into the army.

The European Students’ Union, which estimates that about 9,000-10,000 students are affected, has called for Ukrainian authorities to allow students to exit the country to continue or start their studies.

“We have raised the issue…with the Ukrainian authorities, the European Commission and the [EU] member states,” ESU president Matteo Vespa told Research Professional News.

Ukraine’s ministries responsible for foreign affairs and education did not respond to a request for comment by the time this story was published. Vespa said the ban applies to all of the country’s borders.

Hundreds of complaints

On 2 February, the ESU published a statement together with the Slovak Student Council for Higher Education (ŠRVŠ), saying that they had been receiving complaints of not being allowed to leave Ukraine from hundreds of students in the country since the summer of 2022.

“Students tried several times to cross the border, but despite fulfilling all the conditions, they were denied their right to education,” the statement said.

It added that the ŠRVŠ had asked the Slovak government to help, but so far was not aware of any action the government had taken. The government had not responded to a request for comment from Research Professional News by the time this story was published.

ESU and ŠRVŠ have now asked Slovak members of the European Parliament for help with the situation.

‘Situation is unfair’

About 200 students have been unable to leave Ukraine to study at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, according to its vice-rector for education, Mikuláš Bittera. He said some of these students have tried to take part in online classes, but that this is not always possible.

The university believes problems with students leaving Ukraine are due to martial law rules imposed following Russia’s invasion. “According to our information, in Ukraine there is a ban on leaving the country for men over the age of 18 due to mobilisation,” Bittera said.

“We consider it unfair if students who have already studied at our university for a certain period of time cannot attend their studies properly,” he added. “This situation does not please anyone, we have to deal with the increasing number of psychological patients among students.”

Lack of clarity

Vespa questioned why students were not being allowed to leave Ukraine. He said “theoretically” the situation could be linked to the martial law rules. But he added that people studying in Ukraine or abroad were meant to be exempt from the draft, so said it was “not clear on what basis the ban is there”. 

He added: “Apparently, the general worry of the Ukrainian government is the possible brain drain from the country.”

This would be illogical, he said, because “these students would have been enrolled in higher education abroad anyway” and “the treatment they’re subject [to] is not encouraging them to stay once it will be possible again to cross the border”.