The war in Ukraine has been going on for almost a year now. Russia invaded it on 24 February last year. Mendel University has been involved in helping from the very beginning. Seven Ukrainian scientists with refugee status have found employment at the Faculty of Economics and Management. They are working in the same field of research as at their home universities and have also been given the opportunity to participate in several European research projects. However, they are still following the current events in Ukraine closely and their future is full of uncertainty and sadness.
This contradiction is described by most Ukrainian academics at the Faculty of Economics and Management. “It is like living in two parallel universes. Especially when every day I read news about killing and destruction in Ukraine. Every week there are predictions that the war will end soon, but it drags on. We try to support our colleagues at the University of Charkov whether in the form of humanitarian aid or simply online work and paperwork, especially when they don’t have jobs and electricity,” Volodymyr Rodchenko explained. Liudmyla Yefimova, who works at the Institute of Accounting and Taxation, feels similarly. “For me, it means constant life uncertainty and sadness at the severing of family ties, but on the other hand, it also means the opportunity to be involved in the academic sphere of a foreign country and the possibility of foreign studies for my younger daughters, who would like to continue their higher education in the Czech Republic in the future,” she said.
For some of them, the situation in their home country makes acclimatization to normal life in the Czech Republic almost impossible. “From the moment I was awakened at five o’clock eight minutes in the morning on 24 February 2022 by the sounds of shelling in the suburbs of Charkov, I have not been able to recover and get used to life in a new environment,” described Yulia Prus from the Institute of Management. “The adaptation was very difficult for me personally, although all the necessary conditions were created for it. The main thing is that we are safe. The children are safe and can live a normal life, go to kindergarten and school, and I don’t have to worry about someone killing them,” said Ganna Rekun.
The feeling of security is the main positive factor that refugees emphasize. At the same time, they feel very grateful for the support they have received. “I will always be grateful to the Czech Republic for its support and help. We like life in Brno, but of course I miss Ukraine and dream of returning home,” Nataliia Tkalenko said.
Most of the academics came to the Czech Republic with their families, or at least part of them. Therefore, adaptation to the new environment is also important for other family members. “The children are adapting successfully in school and kindergarten and I am very happy with their academic progress. They are already learning Czech courses just like their classmates,” Rodchenko said.
They describe a number of similarities between the two nations. “I have noticed that Czechs, like Ukrainians, are great hard workers. Mentally, both nationalities seem very similar to me,” Rekun said. The similarity between the two languages is also an advantage, which allows them to communicate a little faster. “During the summer, Czech language courses were organized for students and teachers, which allowed us to quickly integrate into Czech society,” stated Nataliia Versal.
Pride in one’s own nation and hope for victory resonate strongly in many of the testimonies. “The last year for me has been a year of losses, fears, challenges and huge pride in my country,” Tkalenko described. “I sincerely believe that this year will be a victorious year for Ukraine and our partners. And a new page in the history of the Ukrainian people will begin to be written,” Prus concluded.
The University has been involved in helping refugee Ukrainians in a number of ways. The Faculty of Regional Development and International Studies waived the tuition fee of CZK 175,000 for Ukrainian students. In cooperation with the Brno for Ukraine civic initiative, students helped to collect raw materials for food banks, one of which was temporarily set up on the MENDELU campus. A number of Ukrainian refugees found accommodation in dormitories in Brno and Lednice. In the first months, the administration of the dormitories and canteens provided accommodation for those in need free of charge from their own expenses. Sometimes even those who had been in the Czech Republic before the beginning of the war needed help. “In the spring of 2022, several of our Ukrainian students of annual Czech language courses found themselves in extreme financial need due to the war and the loss of contact with their families. We provided them with vouchers to buy food and paid their dormitory fees for the last months of their studies. These were individuals out of a total of nearly thirty Ukrainian students,” said Jiří Skládanka, Vice-Rector for Internationalisation and External Relations.
Over three hundred thousand crowns were raised in the MENDELU accounts for aid to Ukraine. The money was used to pay for food for Ukrainian refugees in the MENDELU dormitories and canteens. Psychologists from the Counselling and Career Centre provided counselling assistance. The Institute of Lifelong Learning provided Czech language courses. “In April-June 2022, we organised courses for Ukrainian mothers with children who were staying at MENDELU dormitories. In summer 2022, we implemented an extraordinary summer intensive Czech language course for students from Ukraine who were preparing to enter Czech universities and secondary schools in autumn. And in autumn 2022, we organised an intensive Czech language course for future university students,” Skládanka explained.
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