Readers will have been horrified by the escalation since February of Russian aggression against Ukraine. The loss of life and the physical and cultural destruction unleashed by the conflict have ramped up again in the last few days with the annexation of Ukrainian territory, against which Ukrainian forces continue successfully to push back.
Across Wales, individuals, government, civil society and third sector organisations have been engaged in supporting Ukrainians seeking sanctuary here, and in strengthening links with Ukraine for post-conflict reconstruction.
Higher Education institutions across Wales have played a role too in support for Ukraine, offering sanctuary for students and academics seeking refuge and sharing best practice between staff and students in universities in both countries, with the horizon firmly set on developing links that will outlast the conflict. Universities Wales, as the body representing Wales’ nine universities, has been active in these areas, and at Cardiff Metropolitan University our Vice-Chancellor Professor Cara Aitchison chairs the Universities Wales Ukraine HE Sector Group.
As an institution, Cardiff Met is fully committed not only in helping the post-war recovery of education in Ukraine, but also working closely to offer appropriate sanctuary and support for Ukrainian academics and students. Cardiff Met is particularly well able to respond because of longstanding links with Ukrainian colleagues, institutions and cities that significantly predate the Russian aggression. For example, Cardiff Met’s first postgraduate Sanctuary Scholar came from Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine after the 2014 Russian invasion, and recently graduated with a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, continuing to become a key figure in pedagogical practice networks focused on trauma and English language learning, through her current work with refugees in South Wales. In addition, staff in Cardiff Met’s School of Art and Design have close links with academics at Lviv National Academy of Arts through the 2018 British Council-funded research project Creative Spark. LNAA currently hosts the displaced Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts, and we offer support to both institutions.
Cardiff Met’s expertise in performance sport means our sporting links with Ukraine are also strong. In 2018, our Women’s Football first team played in the UEFA qualifiers in Kharkiv. Our Women’s Football Performance Director, Dr Kerry Harris, remembers how well the team was looked after and how they were shown great kindness by every Ukrainian they met. This summer, our Speed Hub research and innovation centre based in the Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences hosted the National Men’s Sprint Relay Team as they prepared for the European Championships. Athletes and coaches were interviewed by BBC Sport, and gave poignant accounts of what it meant to work together to improve performance and compete for their country after many months of their team being split up.
These existing links meant Cardiff Met was well placed to respond to the call from Universities UK, the umbrella organisation for UK higher education institutions, for universities to twin with Ukrainian institutions. We twin with HS Skovoroda Kharkhiv National Pedagogical University, a research-intensive university and major provider of teacher education in the Kharkiv region, with a reputation for sport and cultural activity.
Situated in an area of intense conflict close to the Russian border, HS Skovoroda’s buildings have been badly affected by missile strikes.. Many male staff and students are serving in the Ukrainian armed forces, and many female staff and students are currently living in countries other than Ukraine as they continue their work and studies. Despite all this, HS Skovoroda students enrolled to study again this year in high numbers; and their university’s staff continue to demonstrate huge resilience in ensuring continuity of education and training for young people, and continuity of research and innovation for their country’s future. We are engaged in a range of activities to support this, offering residencies for student sports teams and coaches so they can train together for the first time in months. Our IT services are supplying equipment, while our library and information services colleagues are ensuring that Ukrainian students and staff can quickly access materials via Cardiff Met’s learning resources. Our academic Schools are pairing across a range of activities, giving both universities an opportunity to share practices, skills and knowledge.
It is our deepest hope and that of our colleagues in Ukraine that Russian aggression will abate. Through our relationships with the higher education sector and sports bodies in Ukraine, we will support Ukrainian friends and colleagues and their students and young sports people as much as we possibly can.
Professor Rachael Langford, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff Metropolitan University