By Caleb Austin ’22
On Thursday, February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian forces bombed cities across the country and immediately advanced on metropolitan centers throughout the north and east. The invasion and denunciation of Ukrainian sovereignty shook the world and, in response to Ukrainian diplomatic efforts, many nations around the globe rallied together to oppose Russian imperialism and support the defense of Ukraine. The outbreak of war on a scale unseen on European soil in our lifetime rattled the HWS community and forces us to confront the real possibility of global war in a way we have never seriously entertained.
In order to understand where HWS stands on the war, the Herald spoke with Professor David Ost, the Center for Global Education, and President Jacobsen.
The Herald spoke with Professor of Political Science David Ost to give context to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and to help us understand how this affects the HWS community. Ost wanted the Herald readers to know:
“It’s been a brutal invasion that the Russians probably didn’t think had to be so brutal because they seem to be operating under somewhat false assumptions that there would be a lot of people who would join with them. They don’t seem to recognize that things have changed since 2014, and things have changed over 30 years.
As part of the Soviet Union, those borders did not mean much for decades, but then suddenly, those borders came to mean everything. In 1991 they might have been able to get some territorial change. But 30 years later; first, you have most people, like in almost every society, most of the population is under 40 and that means they were never cognizant of being part of the Soviet Union, they were only cognizant of being part of independent Ukraine and that matters. Then those who had supported Russia, especially after 2014, moved away from that. The nature of the brutality of the invasion has driven away people who otherwise were sympathetic to Russia, and now they just can’t believe the brutality they are being subjected to by Russia. Millions have left where they are, and it’s going to be hard, it’s going to slog on for a while.”
The Herald asked, “How will it affect HWS and the local community here, if at all?”
Professor Ost responded, “Look, it’s already affecting people; everyone is talking about it, and I am sure plenty of HWS students have heard that people are talking about the possible use of nuclear weapons as a real thing, and that, even in my lifetime… I was seven years old during the Cuban missile crisis and so I don’t know anything. In my adult life, I never thought that was a real possibility, and now Russia-NATO clashes are somewhat possible. People are worried, everyone was worried about COVID, and now there is more worry connected to this.”
Ost continued, “One of the big impacts is going to be on food prices. That affects America less than the rest of the world, but students, international students, may be affected, and that is something that hasn’t been talked about much. Ukraine and Russia are big grain producers and exporters. America is a giant grain producer, so it is not a big crisis. But in African countries and Asia where they are dependent, they are talking about skyrocketing prices and shortages, and hunger resulting from that, and all those things rebound on the international community and international politics. There is also obviously the impact on gas prices.”
He added, “I think it is still possible for people at the HWS community to just block it out as something happening over there, but I am sure there are people who are contemplating this as something that is more serious than other things – people are talking about some serious stuff.
Ost elaborated, “Even Zelenskyy is talking about things like a no-fly zone, and the US government is saying we don’t want it because that will put us at war with Russia. And so those are important issues and right now, it is not so direct, but it can be.”
Speaking on how the Colleges will react, Ost said: “The provost has written me saying that she and the president would be interested in exploring and bringing a displaced scholar from Ukraine to HWS. I was very impressed and glad to see that they thought of that. It was like, we’re a university, what can a university do?”
Ost clarified that, “We can provide for some scholars because there of course have been some people who had to leave, and it is hard to maintain themselves as scholars when they are in exile. Maybe you don’t know the language, some of them may know English, but still what usually happens for people who are well trained and become emigres is that they take low-level work.”
Ost believed that the initial seminar was important. He told the Herald, “I would like the administration to support continuing talking about it because that is always an issue. Everyone has busy lives and there are new crises, and you want to keep attention focused on that, so that is what it can do as a college, and I am pleased to see some of that is starting.”
Professor Ost mentioned how HWS is considering acting as a refuge for an exiled scholar. To understand other actions being taken, the Herald spoke with Dean of Global Education Tom D’Agostino.
Study abroad programs in Russia already relocated to Ukraine in consultation with the Russian Area Studies Department, and these programs have since relocated to Latvia considering the recent invasion.
On this, D’Agostino said: “The Russian Area Studies Program decided conditions in Russia were not exactly what they would have wanted, and so we decided together to move the program. Conditions in Russia in terms of freedoms and safety and security got a little bit concerning, so we proposed a new program location and got it approved by the committee on academic affairs in Kyiv.”
He continued, “Once the impending invasion appeared likely, we then did a shift and proposed a new program in a city in Latvia and that is where we’ll be sending Russian language students going forward. What’s been happening there even before the invasion has had an impact on our programming and obviously, with the invasion, no one is going anywhere in those countries right now.”
President Jacobsen was also able to clarify the position of the Colleges and their prerogatives moving forward. She told the Herald, “Part of the idea that we would all jointly grant Zelenskyy a degree in absentia, as an honor, and that would help raise awareness and show solidarity.”
Jacobsen then spoke about the students themselves. She stated, “We have our students– we have two Ukrainian students, a Russian student, and the Russian FLTA. We’ve been in close contact to make sure they feel supported, and if there are financial issues, we’ll deal with that too. We’ve also had several Ukrainians apply to come in and we’re offering scholarships to a couple of those students. Those students have been writing us to inquire about the possibility of funding because they don’t have access to funds.”
President Jacobsen asserted other administrative considerations.
“I have also asked Provost Kirk, and she’s been working with Professor Ost. There’s a consortium out of New School that tries to help displaced scholars, so I’ve asked them to see if we can join that and if there’s somebody who would make sense coming here for a while.” She continued, “There’s also a movement at Columbia to allow in more students who are displaced in general who might be living in refugee camps, so I’ve asked John and the Provost to think about if that is something we can be doing more of as well.”
President Jacobsen clarified the circumstances surrounding granting refuge. She told the Herald, “If we join this consortium, we would be in it, so if there are issues in other countries or other situations and a scholar that comes along would be appropriate, we could do that.”
However, this does not come without challenge, Jacobsen asserted. “Sometimes it’s hard because a lot of people will be in disciplines that we don’t necessarily have. I looked at the list of scholars they had right now, through scholars at risk, they didn’t have Ukrainians, and most fields we don’t really cover here. So, it does have to be a situation where it makes sense to have them and would be useful for them to be here. I think for students it’s clearer. These students applied to us, so they were already interested and now we are going to help them.”
The Herald wanted to know if any more talks would be available for the community. President Jacobsen responded, “I think both Professor Ost and John Sipher were good at answering” the initial questions at the first talk. As for the future, she stated, “I feel there have been enough other things out at this point. We got in early, at this point we don’t have other plans, but if things change, we might plan to do more.”
The Colleges are affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the Colleges are responding. Between President Jacobsen and Dean D’Agostino, we see HWS is doing what it can to secure global partnerships while securing the safety of all study abroad students. Outside of the symbolic effort of giving Zelenskyy an honorary degree, the Colleges are trying to ensure the safety, comfort, and needs of the students we are hosting, and are also interested in easing the ability of displaced students to come here and study, as well as grant refuge to a scholar in need.
The Colleges are looking to join a consortium that would allow HWS to receive displaced scholars so long as they’re a good fit for our academic system. What comes next depends on whether HWS joins a consortium and works with other colleges to host displaced scholars and whether HWS plans on continuing to aid displaced students.