Students at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv Students at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv 

'Invisible University' set up for students from Ukraine

Central European University launches a new initiative in Budapest for Ukrainian students fleeing the war.

By Stefan J. Bos

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine ongoing, the Central European University (CEU) has launched an 'Invisible University for Ukraine' in Hungary's capital Budapest.

Among those studying here are students forced to flee their wartorn nation or otherwise impacted by Europe's most significant armed conflict since World War Two. The program started online and soon became the 'Invisible University.'

Organizers soon discovered that the name could also be understood as a reference to underground university initiatives in Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

But now,  junior and senior undergraduate and graduate students from Ukraine can study in person at the campus of the CEU in Budapest.

Among them was Zhanna Oganesian, who studied political science in the Ukrainian port city of Mykolayiv when she was forced to flee. "I was only in Mykolaiv for 42 days at the war's beginning. But Mykolaiv was constantly being shelled. It was very, very difficult. So, like many others, I understood that I couldn't study normally," she said.

"So I needed to find a program to help me develop," Ognesian recalled. She explained that she is "interested in human rights and conflict studies and wants to learn how to write about the war to talk to victims and civilians."

Zhanna Oganesian now hopes to find the peace she needs at the Invisible University for Ukraine certificate program to at least continue studying at a time of uncertainty about her nation's future.

Ostap Sereda, Associate Professor of history at the Ukrainian Catholic University, says "26 students representing 11 Ukrainian Universities" will gather for the winter series of courses.

Additionally, workshops and an exhibition seek to contribute to the discussions on the war experience and "to facilitate a successful postwar reconstruction of Ukrainian culture and society" in a nation that eventually wants to become part of the European Union, organizers said.
Speakers include Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Oleksandra Matviichuk and politicians, writers, and other experts. 

Yet the many students unable to attend won't be forgotten as courses are streamed online. "With Ukrainian higher education shattered by the bombing, many initiatives around the world are trying to help by offering visiting fellowships to teachers, researchers, and students," said CEU Pro-Rector Laszlo Kontler.

"Our program was conceived with those in mind who cannot or do not want to leave the country, which will need them after the war. Attending or delivering an online lecture is a moving experience, which Ukrainian youngsters often log in to from a shelter."

He added that classes "can hardly be finished because of the active participation. The students often express their gratitude, while we are the ones who should be grateful for being shown that what we are doing is necessary and meaningful."

CEU began hosting the courses in Budapest after it was forced to move most operations to neighboring Austria after disagreements with the government over education. There have been a series of protests from students and teachers demanding more freedom and autonomy for universities and other schools. Recently they also added demands for more payment and the right to strike to their needs.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report

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24 January 2023, 17:10