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Bruno Brief: Ukrainian scholars in exile at Brown

Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced as a result of the Russian invasion and bombing of Ukraine. They have flooded the borders of neighboring countries, seeking refuge from the violence. The University announced that it plans to provide an academic home for Ukrainian scholars displaced by the conflict in a community-wide email Feb. 27. In this episode of The Bruno Brief, we learn more about this program and the organizations the University is partnering with to support Ukrainian scholars.

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Katy Pickens

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has plunged the country into chaos. According to NPR, over 2 million people have left Ukraine since the conflict began on Feb. 24. Millions continue to scramble during this crisis, searching for a safe place to stay amid the devastation and not knowing whether they will be able to return home.

On Feb. 27, Brown announced that it would house Ukrainian scholars fleeing the conflict. Working with Scholars at Risk and the New University in Exile Consortium, Brown is seeking to provide a safe academic home to these scholars, according to the announcement. This week, we spoke with Alex Nadirashvili about his reporting on this upcoming initiative. This is the Bruno Brief.

What is the motivation behind the University's decision to offer this aid? 

Alex Nadirashvili

I spoke with the provost, Richard Locke, and he said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was really fundamentally against the University's values of democracy, freedom of expression, self-determination. So the University wanted to act and make sure they're providing scholars a place to practice their research and academia in a safe space. 

Richard Locke

The unprovoked and unjustified invasion, an attack by Russia on a democratically elected sovereign state, Ukraine, runs against not only international law and norms of democratic governance, but runs against the core values of this university, which is freedom of expression, self determination and support for democratic rule.

Alex Nadirashvili 

And then I also spoke with Professor Masako Fiddler, who talked about how this decision was really in line with the University's dedication to diversity and inclusion, and how she thought it would be a really wonderful opportunity for these scholars to come on campus and give the University a really new perspective on the conflict. 

Katy Pickens

Fiddler is a professor of Slavic languages

Masako Fider

Diversity and inclusion are fundamentals of democracy. So this is really also about your Ukraine democracy, and I think it's obvious that we want to show solidarity with a state like this. 

Katy Pickens 

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And what are some of the difficulties for these scholars beyond escaping the ongoing invasion of their country? 

Alex Nadirashvili 

Yeah, so right now, a lot of these displaced scholars that the University would be helping are out of Ukraine, and they can stay in European nations for up to 90 days, I believe, after which they will go somewhere else. And so the University is hoping that they could come to Brown. But there's a lot of difficulties with visas. That's the number one issue because the visa process is so difficult. Visas sometimes aren't approved for scholars like these because the countries are worried that they won't return after the conflict is over. So the visa process is definitely a big issue. Also, funding is a big problem because the organizations that the University is going to be working with, which is the New University in Exile Consortium and Scholars at Risk, they do not provide funding for these scholars. So universities like Brown have to come up with their own funding to help support these scholars.

Katy Pickens

And what kind of aid is the university going to offer these scholars? 

Alex Nadirashvili 

The University helps ensure that these scholars have visas. Sometimes they help them acquire housing, health care, other, you know, other similar necessities. 

Richard Locke

We're talking about scholars, which is what we're focusing on right now, especially. And these are usually academics who, their universities have been closed or they've been driven from their homes because of conflict. And so what we do is we offer them visiting appointments in either one of our departments or schools or centers. And what we offer them is usually a salary and standard packages. And then sometimes we've given them housing as well. 

Katy Pickens 

That was Locke.

And what is the New University in Exile Consortium and Scholars at Risk? 

Alex Nadirashvili 

Yeah, so the New University in Exile Consortium, it's basically a global organization which partners with different universities and colleges across the world, gets in contact with displaced scholars or displaced scholars get in contact with them. And they basically go through somewhat of a vetting process to match these scholars with respective universities that they would be able to do their work in. And they help you know, individuals whose universities have been closed or they've been driven from their homes because of conflict and who really can't perform their research and academia because of either who they are, what they identify with, what politics they identify with, the risk in their area, stuff like that. 

Katy Pickens

And what issue are these organizations facing at the moment? 

Alex Nadirashvili 

Yeah, so a big issue for the New University in Exile Consortium is that they are also working really closely to aid Afghan students right now, which Brown has previously worked with. We're currently housing 15 students, I believe, on campus from Afghanistan. So Arien Mack, who's the founding director of the New University in Exile Consortium, said that they're really overwhelmed with still helping Afghan students. And then at the same time, they're fielding a lot of emails and, you know, correspondences with Ukrainian scholars. And it's, there's a pretty small staff at the consortium. So it's difficult for them to get through all these applications, but they're working really hard to get to the process on an individual basis where they go one scholar at a time, one person at a time. 

Arien Mack

We've been trying to do what we can to find placements already for fleeing Ukrainian scholars. We are about to circulate a petition, which we are going to circulate as widely as possible, and asking faculty and students to sign it. It's in solidarity with Ukrainian people condemning the invasion. The painful and overwhelming part of all this is that when Afghanistan fell, of course, we immediately felt compelled to try to help the thousands of Afghanistan academics and students who were threatened as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. And we're still immersed in that. And now, of course, on top of that, the nightmare that's unfolding in Ukraine, which is with floods of refugees crossing the border where there are borders.

Alex Nadirashvili   

As for Scholars at Risk, they haven't received too many applications right now. It's fewer than 10 from Ukraine, I believe. But they think that the number is going to go up as the scholars need to find spaces outside of European nations to come to. 

Katy Pickens

And what's your sense of when these scholars would arrive at Brown’s campus? 

Alex Nadirashvili 

Yeah, so there's no exact timeline established right now. For Scholars at Risk, they're thinking they'll start fielding more applications in about six months, so that's after the time runs out for them to stay in European nations. And also, right now, a lot of the applications are coming from women because men between the ages of 18 and, I believe, 60 from Ukraine cannot leave because of martial law. And so they're expecting applications to pick up after that. There's no real timeline on the University’s behalf either because they're just waiting on lists for matched scholars. So as soon as, you know, those applications start coming in and they get matched with Brown, we can expect scholars to come.  

Katy Pickens 

Alex, thanks for being with us. 

Alex Nadirashvili 

Thank you so much for having me. This was great.

Katy Pickens  

This has been the Bruno Brief. The Bruno Brief is produced by Livi Burdette, Corey Gelb-Bicknell, Lella Wirth, Ellery Campbell, Jacob Smollen, Finn Kirkpatrick, Da-Young Kim and me, Katy Pickens. If you like what you hear, subscribe to The Bruno Brief wherever you get your podcasts and leave a review. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next week.



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