The response by universities to the invasion of Ukraine
The news and images reaching us from Ukraine reveal a terrible humanitarian catastrophe that requires us to act. We cannot just stand by and watch the suffering of innocent people. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity”. The extent of the tragedy arouses our unreserved condemnation and forces us to act.
It must be made clear, however, that such condemnation is of the decisions by the Russian government and not of the Russian people. Indeed, since the invasion began, we have been stirred both by the courageous defence of the Ukrainians and the courage of many Russians who are protesting against the invasion. They are all risking their freedom and their lives.
The universities must respond, we must be active players in this crisis situation. And we are, in a variety of ways. We are helping and stand in solidarity with the people directly suffering the invasion and our sister institutions in Ukraine who are witnesses to the destruction of their campuses. We have issued messages of solidarity and denunciation and we have expressed our solidarity and offered our help to the rectors of the main Ukrainian universities.
But that is not enough. We are giving academic refuge and all the help and support we can to teachers, students and other refugees who are affected by the invasion. We have evacuated our students who were in Ukraine and Russia; we are offering support and accompaniment to the Ukrainian and Russian students and teachers we have here; we have set up scholarships and financial aid. We are also promoting solidarity initiatives by the university community to provide economic, cultural, logistical, humanitarian and academic support to the people of Ukraine and to refugees. We are encouraging donations to humanitarian organizations that have the means to deliver financial aid, food, medicine, clothing or other essential supplies to refugees or those who remain in Ukraine.
And for all this to succeed it is fundamental that the complex bureaucratic web of our country must not put a spanner in the works of all the initiatives that are being implemented. We need to move swiftly with visas, academic arrangements, the economic management of aid and all that can improve the lives of those affected.
Nor can we forget that the university is a space for critical reflection and for denouncing the invasion. Universities must rise to the occasion, fostering critical academic debate; rigour in the study and analysis of the conflict; generating arguments for the Russian government to understand the error of its ways; and offering proposals for solutions. Hence, it is important that universities, including Russian universities, should assert their academic freedom to condemn the invasion. We can also help towards not generating animosity between Russians and Ukrainians, all of whom are victims of the invasion of Ukraine.
It is clear that regardless of how this invasion ends, we have all lost already. But we universities must all do all we can to make everything less painful and the outcome less nefarious. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Gorbachev said referring to his role in resolving conflicts between countries: “If not me, who? And if not now, when?”.