Building bridges of knowledge: how Ukrainian students in the EU empower the spread of European values back home
October 31, 2023

Building bridges of knowledge: how Ukrainian students in the EU empower the spread of European values back home

Author: Iryna Snytiuk, YEA in Ukraine

        Over 49,000 Ukrainian students were studying in the European Union in 2019, before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The invasion, on 24 February 2022, was a brutal shock to students’ plans for the future, but it also raised awareness of the fundamental importance of shared values, such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Many Ukrainians were forced to move to safety, often to countries of the European Union, and their resulting engagement is significant both for their host communities in Europe and for society back home in Ukraine. Many young Ukrainians are studying at European universities, where they are acquiring professional competencies and shared values, hoping to apply their knowledge and skills towards the reconstruction of Ukraine.

           Three students embody this experience and commitment to the future: Nadiia Kasianchuk, Sofia Shayda, and Vitalina Shevchenko are all now studying at universities in the European Union, each in their way contributing to the future development of Ukraine. Their examples showcase the importance of equipping students with high-quality knowledge, immersing them in new environments that help them to develop their perspectives, and establishing sustainable connections with the European Union by educating different generations.

Opening the doors to a wealth of resources and networks

One of the Young European Ambassadors displaced by the full-scale invasion is Nadiia Kasianchuk. She is originally from Ternopil, and is now working on her master’s degree in Biotechnology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. 

Nadiia highlights how European universities have opened the doors to a wealth of resources and networks for Ukrainian students, supporting access to libraries, research materials, and online databases.

European universities provide the physical space for Ukrainian students, whose studies in Ukraine have been interrupted by the conflict.  Students are able to build their academic achievements in a safe environment, access a vast repository of knowledge from multinational academic communities  and use highly innovative research tools. They also offer unparalleled opportunities: for example, the university in Poznań provided Nadia with the possibility of becoming a scholar of the ‘New Technologies for Women – Ukraine’ programme, aimed at empowering women in the field of science and STEM. Such programmes make a significant contribution to gender equality in the field of STEM, and inspire young girls to choose science and technology as their major. For 10 months, the participants in the programme have been learning data analysis, Python, and C++ coding, as well as preparing themselves for career interviews. 

Nadiia has also had the opportunity to participate in two conferences in Poland,  ‘Incubating freedom: Post-war innovative transformation of Ukraine’ in Lublin, and the Perspektywy Women in Tech Summit in Warsaw. These events helped her to understand how she can use the knowledge obtained during her studies in Europe to rebuild Ukraine and improve its innovative progress.

Providing opportunities to establish long-term connections with the EU

Another example is Young European Ambassador Sofiia Shayda from Lviv. She is pursuing her degree in international economic relations at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and believes what she is learning now will help her to change perspectives and contribute to the development of Ukraine through the lens of European values. Sofia emphasises how her international experiences at university, such as participation in the Harvard World Model United Nations in Paris, helped her in acquiring knowledge to write position papers and conduct negotiations, which enhanced her confidence as a delegate from Ukraine. The skills she gained have fostered her desire for improvement at the Lviv National University community, and she is brimming with ideas on how to reform student initiatives to base them on shared values, develop a cycling infrastructure, and foster initiatives for women’s leadership.

Sofiia also said studying in Europe had allowed her to work closely with students from different backgrounds. This diverse community cultivates a unique atmosphere of cultural exchange, understanding, and collaboration, allowing Ukrainian students to develop their ideas of cooperation between European states and Ukraine to accelerate the process of rebuilding Ukraine. Already, Sofiia has implemented several projects in her home community, including charity literature and cultural events about Germany and Italy, and an eco-event about the European Green Deal for students of the Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

These diverse approaches to learning in European Universities allow Ukrainian students to thrive in an interconnected global society, promoting mutual respect, empathy, and cooperation among individuals from different cultural backgrounds to promote EU-related knowledge among the different generations in their communities through educational projects.

Developing tools for rebuilding and renewing Ukraine 

A different dynamic change maker is Vitalina Shevchenko, a YEA from Kharkiv. She did her undergraduate degree in International Economy at V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, and for the final semester joined an Erasmus academic exchange programme at the University of Leon in Spain. She has now completed her Master’s degree at the University of York in the United Kingdom. 

Vitalina says that before studying in the European Union, she had not realised European citizens’ perception of their union, lacking a deeper understanding of its history and culture. Her sense of sharing that European identity was further enriched by her active engagement in a strongly interconnected community, where she acquired invaluable experiences, participating in a podcast of local NGOs in Leon. This podcast delved into the significance of incorporating diverse perspectives into Erasmus exchange programmes, where Vitalina had a chance to share her point of view. 

At the same time, Vitalina is convinced that Ukraine’s progress relies heavily on the involvement of individuals from different backgrounds. Her main mission is to spread European values among Ukrainians abroad and to emphasise the importance of collaboration between the European Union and its neighbours in local communities. Together with other Young European Ambassadors, she gave a presentation at York University to promote the initiative and inspire people to join in making a change in today’s society. Vitalina’s experience of studying in three different countries has given her a broader perspective and a wealth of knowledge that she is implementing in student unions in both Ukrainian and English universities, and she plans to use her skills to improve the Ukrainian education system and root European values in Ukraine’s developing generations. 

Like those of her fellow YEAs, her experience highlights how students can create a lasting impact on Ukraine’s process of renewal through the application of knowledge and perspectives gained while studying in European universities.

These examples show how Ukrainian students studying abroad acquire not only academic excellence but also the profound values that the European Union promotes – human dignity, freedom, human rights, equality, democracy, and the rule of law. Their journey is not just a personal experience: it’s a bridge connecting the European ethos with Ukraine’s aspirations. These enriching experiences empower them to actively cause positive change, innovation, collaboration, and the spread of European values, fostering a stronger, more democratic, and progressive Ukraine.

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