war crimes in Ukraine

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Armed militants wage offensive against Donbas universities

Halya Coynash 

Attempts to seize control of the universities in Donetsk and Luhansk are continuing with the Kremlin-backed militants not always aware what is studied in the institutes they burst into with machine guns

On Aug 18, history lecturers at Donetsk National University refused to ‘swear allegiance’ to a ‘people’s rector’ whom Kremlin-backed militants were trying to install at gunpoint.

One of the lecturers present told Novosti Donbasa that armed militants from the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic [DPR] turned up on Friday and announced that the faculty was to close.  He said that the militants arrived together with Sergei Baryshnikov, whom they called the new dean, the so-called education minister Ihor Kostenok and one of the lecturers from the political science faculty Kirill Cherkashin.  The latter was also armed with a machine gun.

Kostenok reportedly announced that Donetsk University is to become a branch of Moscow State University and that the Donetsk National Management University will be a branch of the Russian State Humanitarian University.   

It would be interesting to know whether this was their fantasy or had been discussed in advance with the relevant universities. If so, were the latter aware of the militants’ belief in the educational value of machine guns?

The arms failed to have an impact on the lecturers who all refused to ‘swear allegiance’ to these new educational bosses.

Another witnesses recounts:

“The first time they came on Sept 10.  Terrible people with machine guns, some kind of knives. They surrounded the building. They spat on the floor, right in the corridor. Why did they come? And we were supposed to swear allegiance …  I don’t know how, but they called a new dean.  Announced that it would be Lysenko.  Lysenko, a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences apparently refused, so things settled down.  Then yesterday, on the seventeenth it started again. Armed, young and old. One shouts: “I was rotting in the trenches for three months!  So I have a right to education, don’t I?”.  Another: “I’ll come myself and bring my children. And my wife!  Let them issue degrees.  Some kind of translator or lawyer.” 

The person goes on to explain that the ‘new dean’ Baryshnikov was thrown out, albeit without a major scandal for taking bribes.  Now, the witness says, he’s come back to get his revenge. It is Baryshnikov who called staff meetings for Aug 18, with it understood that if they don’t swear allegiance, they’ll be dismissed.  At first he says he needs to get his work record book out, but then changes his mind: if they slap “dismissed by the DPR” in it, he’ll treat it as an honour.

The situation is similar in Luhansk, though there are some differences.  At the end of August militants from the so-called Luhansk people’s republic [LPR] installed their own ‘people’s dean’ [Ruslan Kharkivsky] at the Dal East Ukrainian National University and promised to issue Russian-type degrees.  The University of Luhansk’s buildings have been totally taken over by LPR, however the university itself, headed by Vitaly Kurilo, has evacuated to Starobelsk. 

Another report by Yekaterina Serheeva suggests the situation is worse under the LPR who have taken one deputy dean prisoner.  It’s believed that he is being held in the basement of the SBU building.

The author notes that unlike in Donetsk, the Luhansk militants didn’t even know the name of the university or who studies there.  

The Education Ministry has issued a statement confirming that the dean of the Donetsk National University has not changed, and that any so-called ‘people’s deans’ will not be recognized.  It also informs that lecturers’ salaries and student grants will be paid, with studies continuing by correspondence.

Students at Donbas universities have already been through a lot. During the last semester armed militants turned up at Donetsk students’ hostels, demanding to see lists of foreign students, those from Western Ukraine and / or students with pro-Ukrainian views.  Not surprisingly, students who could transfer to other universities did so.  One student in a private conversation said that it had long been dangerous to even speak Ukrainian.

How realistic it is to continue distance learning for long remains unclear and other solutions will need to be found.  The problems are great but at least surmountable.  They require much less of a mental leap than imagining higher education run by Kremlin-armed militants who have no idea that running an educational institution is not the same as seizing other people’s cars.   Best not at gunpoint.

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