Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created obstacles to UC Berkeley students, especially to student research, language immersion programs and study abroad.
On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, resulting in more than 6 million refugees and global economic consequences — and curtailing several academic programs at UC Berkeley for the foreseeable future.
“A number of our graduate students have not been able to go to Russia to conduct their research,” said Jeff Pennington, executive director of the campus Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. “People who were planning on going are having to reconsider what their options might be.”
Graduate students, especially those further into their programs, are being forced to rethink how they can achieve their degrees, according to Pennington. At the same time, there is growing academic interest in the region, he said.
Language study is often key to international research, and immersion programs in Russia have halted due to the war, Pennington said. The University of California Education Abroad Program, or UCEAP, no longer offers a linguistic immersion experience in Russian, according to Vivian-Lee Nyitray, assistant vice provost and executive director of UCEAP.
“Students engaged in language study always benefit from time spent in a location where they face the need to use the language frequently and in ways that test their ability to think on the spot in the target language,” Nyitray said in an email.
Study abroad programs had been put on hold because of COVID and never resumed in Russia, where Berkeley Study Abroad had programs in Moscow and St. Petersburg. UCEAP offered one exchange program in St. Petersburg through the Council on International Educational Exchange, or CIEE, which was not reinstated after COVID because of the war, Nyitray said.
Colette Plum, assistant dean of UC Berkeley Study Abroad, noted that overall costs of study abroad for students have been increased, due to the war’s impact on costs to travel and fuel.
Explorations for language program alternatives are at an early stage, Nyitray said. Graduate researchers are also seeking alternatives, including programs in surrounding countries and third-party access to research materials, which may be costly, Pennington said.
“This is going to have an impact on students going forward if the work continues and even if the war ends,” Pennington said. “It might be safer for people to go into Ukraine to do research, but I think the situation with Russia is going to be very difficult for American researchers to be able to get in to continue their work there.”
Harrison King, a Ph.D. student in campus’s history department, planned to spend some months conducting archival research in Moscow and St. Petersburg but was forced to seek an alternative and go to the Republic of Georgia. Other graduate students’ plans were also derailed, King said in an email.
“Like most of my peers, I’m just plugging along and concentrating on what research I can get done under these circumstances.” King said in the email. “I have also discovered several digital collections that have partially compensated for the lack of access to Russian archives.”
King noted that the Russian archives are important to current and future research projects and hold historical documents related to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
“It’s often difficult to focus on research given the unfolding nightmare in Ukraine, but our continued collective efforts to build expertise on the post-Soviet region are critical,” King said in the email. “Everyone in the field of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies is still grappling with the fallout from this brutal war.”