Despite the continuous tension between Russia and Ukraine, the Office of International Education and Ryan Foulds, a junior studying abroad in Russia, agrees the conflict is not affecting study abroad experiences.
March 2, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russia had declared war on Ukraine after Russian troops moved into Crimea. Crimea is an autonomous republic that is governed in accordance with Ukrainian law, but identifies more with Russia. Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov said the troops were there to protect ethnic Russians from Ukrainian nationalists. As a result of the conflict between the two countries, Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said Monday he would not accept the secession.
Foulds has been studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia since September, and said the reaction there had not been very noticeable since it was so far from Crimea and Ukraine. She said she had first heard about the conflict from a news update on her phone.
She said the news coverage in Russia had been downplaying the protests, but as the conflict escalated, she had asked more Russians for their thoughts. She said one of her Russian friends believed Russia should be allowed to go into Crimea because he had said Russians were being threatened and attacked there.
“Russians like to ask me about my opinion on the matter,” Foulds said, “but I am very hesitant because they usually don’t like what I have to say. The last time it came up, it ended in an argument about who won World War II.”
Regardless, Foulds said no one seemed to be too troubled by the conflict and daily life had not changed. She said the only person in America she had spoken to about the issue was her mother.
Michele Cox, director of study abroad, said the Center for International Education had a crisis management plan to handle international situations that might affect students who are abroad. However, she said in the 23 years she had worked here, the tsunami in Japan had been the only situation that had required Richmond students be given the option to return home.
Cox said the department received daily security updates about anything going on around the world and relevant information was passed on to students studying abroad in those countries. Decisions about recalling students are made based on these updates, as well as what other universities and American businesses are doing.
Cox said Russia was such a large country that Foulds was not in a situation where she would need to be recalled, but the study abroad office would continue to keep an eye on the situation.
Currently, University of Richmond is also home to several Russian students and one from Ukraine.
Renat Gabitov, a sophomore from Moscow, said he was contacted by the Office of International Education when the conflict began with an offer to help him contact his family.
Gabitov said he had gone to Ukraine two years ago and had learned about the general attitude of its people.
“I believe that my country, Russia, is the only one out there that actually wants to resolve the conflict without breaking any norms or human rights,” Gabitov said, “while the West chooses to wait until Ukraine government collapses.”
He said the news coverage in both the United States and Russia had been full of propaganda.
“CNN scares people with Cold War and images of aggressive Russian people invading a peaceful country as well as comparing globally recognized politicians to Hitler,” Gabitov said. “Channel One Russia fails to inform people about the western opinion and G7’s refusal to come to Russia.”
Gabitov said most Russians looked at the United States’ involvement in the situation as if the United States was trying to gain influence over Ukraine, likening the situation to the United States’ involvement in Europe after World War II.
Gabitov said a government collapse or civil war would not benefit Ukraine in any way.
“I know Ukrainian people. I know Russian people. We care for each other,” Gabitov said.
Contact reporter Katie Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org