War creates financial hardship for Russian and Ukrainian students

Viktoriia Yevtushenko, a freshman at Pace University, is caught between two worlds.

Back in Ukraine, her country is besieged by hostile Russian forces, causing her family to flee, losing their home and business. But in the United States, life goes on as normal on the Pace campus in New York, thousands of miles from the war.

“It’s like living in two different realities. There is a war and people are dying. But at the same time here everything is fine,” Yevtushenko said. “Everyone is smiling and everything is fine.”

Although the war may seem distant, its challenges have reached Yevtushenko in the United States. When her family lost their home and business, their financial situation changed almost overnight.

“My family had money to pay for this semester, including my housing and my meal plan,” Yevtushenko said. “Right now, I’m fine. I know I can be here until May. But after May, I don’t know.

With his family now in Germany, Yevtushenko faces an uncertain financial future. Many other Ukrainian students in the United States are grappling with the same problem, their financial situation suddenly and violently altered by a Russian invasion that devastated towns and families.

Many Russian students in the United States also saw their financial situation change rapidly, thanks to the sudden devaluation of the rouble.

According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2021 report, there were 4,085 Russian students and 1,739 Ukrainian students in the United States for the 2020-2021 academic year. Of the Russian students, 2,022 were undergraduates, 1,663 were graduate students, 317 were studying in non-degree streams, and 803 were in optional practical training programs. For Ukrainian nationals, IIE had 877 undergraduate students, 529 graduate students, 48 ​​on non-degree streams, and 285 enrolled in OPT.

Today, thousands of these students need help.

Academic responses

Pace University hosts 33 Russian students and 12 Ukrainian students. Pace tries to meet their needs, which President Marvin Krislov says can be as varied as the students themselves.

“I think the majority of these students are graduate students,” he said. “Some of them may be finishing their studies; some of them are still in the middle of it. So really, it’s an individual circumstance.

Krislov added that Pace reaches out to foundations, community partners and churches to help support students.

The main concerns, he said, are basic needs such as food and shelter. In response, the university funneled some of the funding to students through its Pace Cares emergency fund. But there are many other challenges for students, including their mental and emotional health. Krislov also stresses the importance of creating a community where students feel welcomed and supported by Pace employees and classmates in this time of need.

“What we’re seeing is that when students are having these experiences, they’re very disconnected from their typical support base, and they may not even be in touch with their families, because communications can be cut off or are very difficult,” Krislov said. “And it’s really important for us to embrace them, to try to help them and to listen to them. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Group counseling sessions are one way Pace seeks to serve war-affected students. Richard Shadick, director of Pace’s Counseling Center, said the group sessions allow students to unpack the emotional burden of their attachment to war. He observed feelings of fear, isolation and uncertainty, linked to both financial hardship and concern for family and friends.

“For Ukrainian students, many of them feel stuck and isolated here in the United States, unable to return to their country without taking a significant risk to their physical safety. In some ways they are cut off from their financial support, because either their family is out of work, or they are overseas, or they are fighting for their lives,” Shadick said. “Ironically, to a similar extent, our Russian students are having the same kind of experience, as the ruble has fallen significantly. Access to their finances has been cut off. This led to a similar challenge.

Shadick added that Ukrainian students are under pressure to “be emotionally stable and strong for their families, because they are not in danger,” as their family members may be.

Russian students, meanwhile, could be stigmatized since their nation is the aggressor in the war, Shadick said. As the international community seeks to hold Russia accountable, its citizens abroad fear that the anger rightly directed at Moscow will target them instead.

“These are not individuals who decide to go to war, and they are afraid of being treated as such,” Shadick said. “Some Russian students live in fear of being physically or emotionally hurt just because they are Russian.”

Additionally, these students may be afraid or unable to speak out for fear of government reprisals against their families or themselves if they return home.

The Russian Challenge

Ukrainian students, suffering shell shock from a ruthless Russian invasion, are a sympathetic case. Donors can understand their plight. But that’s less true for Russian students, who don’t necessarily elicit the same kind of sympathy, experts say.

“Some schools are having trouble talking to donors about Russian students whose funding has been severely cut for fear of political backlash,” said Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators. to students. “And Russian students find it difficult to afford to study in the United States because their currency has lost so much value, or they have lost funding or access to funds because of economic sanctions.”

Draeger noted that a central part of the mission of higher education is to inspire students to re-examine their worldview and to think critically. But he says colleges are struggling to articulate that message to donors as they seek to support Russian students in particular.

“Where do you draw the line between holding Russia accountable and Russian students, who disagree with their home country’s actions, accountable?” Draeger said. “I think that’s probably the new dynamic here in fundraising, raising resources and getting a community to go around and help a group of students who might be in crisis.”

Help students

Experts suggest focusing on a multifaceted approach to helping Ukrainian and Russian students. Universities should focus on their basic needs, mental and emotional health, and financial hardship, and check in often to ensure students are receiving appropriate support.

“For the students who are here, [universities] should talk to them, learn what challenges they face and what their families are going through,” said IIE Co-Chair Jason Czyz. “And that will give [universities] this best first-hand picture as to how they should proceed.

If colleges have money, Draeger encourages them to tap into it to help affected students.

“If they have the funds and they’re not limited, they can try to set up emergency packages now that would help provide a bridge for students who are experiencing immediate financial hardship,” Draeger said. “But that doesn’t necessarily answer the longer-term question of how they’re going to be able to afford, you know, school next semester or next year.”

If colleges don’t have the money to help students, he encourages them to turn to donors.

Beyond fundraising, financial aid is also available to students through organizations such as IIE, which has a student emergency fund of up to $5,000 a year. student. So far, Czyz says, member institutions have applied to support 350 Ukrainian students.

“The purpose of the grant is to help this student meet their short-term needs, whether it is housing, food, transportation, tuition. We don’t really regulate how they use the funds. This is a grant to help them overcome short-term difficulties. And the grant amount can be up to $5,000,” Czyz said. “At present, we will be able to fund at least half of these requests. And I guess we will end up funding a lot more as we assess the resources we have as well as the needs.

But money, although some students desperately need it, is not the only way to help.

Yevtushenko notes that a professor recently sent her contact details for local Ukrainian communities, which helped her learn about events, demonstrations and donations. And she’s also “discovered a lot of kind and generous people” at Pace who are willing to help.

Friends, professors and university staff all helped in one way or another. And while she’s not sure what will happen when her housing contract ends in May, at least she has hope.

“I feel better knowing that if something unexpected happens I will have a place to stay,” Yevtushenko said.

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