“Before I travelled to Sweden, I decided I wanted to tell the story of what it is like to work at a university in a country that is at war.”
These are the words of Tetiana Mamatova, professor at Dnipro University of Technology in Ukraine. She is part of LiU's EMDIAC network, which held a meeting in Linköping in mid-December 2022. EMDIAC are short for Embracing Digitalization in the Academia International Collaboration for Capacity Building and Innovation, and the network aims to exchange information on digital teaching and research in the participating universities.
Will never forget the night of 24 February 2022
“Everything happened so quickly, my husband and I were woken during the night by the terrible noise made when the first bombs fell, and nobody really knew the seriousness of the situation. I started following the news, trying to understand.”
Later she was told that it was the airport that was attacked, and she found clips on YouTube of speeches by Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“It was like a horrible dream, it was hard to understand that it was for real.”
In a state of shock, she continued to follow everything in the media. No one knew what was going to happen next, and the university management urged everyone to stay at home. The day after, she had teaching planned that she carried out digitally. A few students showed up, the rest had already been called up to the army.
“The students didn't want to stop studying even though they were going to fight in the war, they were incredibly motivated. I told those who were unable to participate that they will get a new chance later, and that we have to hope that al of them will be able to return.”
The students’ enthusiasm gives energy and strength
A volunteer center was immediately created in a school building. All the necessary humanitarian aid for the military, territorial defense and refugees are collected there. The people of the city have from the outset done all they can to help those most affected by the war, and that the university has opened up its premises to accommodate students and others who have nowhere to go.
”I get energy and strength from my students. Many continue to study from their outposts in the war. They are clear that they want to study in order to improve and change our situation, to work forward, to prove our dignity.”
The group has also met with students from the Master’s Programme in International and European Relations (MIER) at LiU and discussed issues of governance and policy for artificial intelligence in a regional, European and global perspective.
“It has been valuable for us teachers and students to meet this group and get a new perspective on what teaching and research can be like in a war-torn reality,” says Mariana Gustafsson, associate professor in political science at LiU. She is project leader for Embracing Digitization in the Academia: International Collaboration for Capacity Building and Innovation (EMDIAC) and responsible for the MIER course Contemporary Issues in International Governance, where Swedish and international students, including from Ukraine, participate.
”We need a deeper understanding of what they need, how our colleagues work and what we can work together on, both in the short and the long term," adds Mariana Gustafsson, project leader for EMDIAC.”
As far as research is concerned, Dnipro University is currently focusing on topics such as the sustainable development of regions and communities, resilience and reconstruction. She also explains that they have organised various conferences on these subjects since the start of the war in cooperation with the region and the authorities.
Tetiana Mamotova works in the basement of her house. All teaching is done digitally, apart from for some exercises that are done in a laboratory. It is not safe for students and employees to travel from their home to the university. In the first two weeks, the war had damaged or destroyed more than 280 university and schools´ buildings in Ukraine; the current number is around 2,800.
Multiple digital solutions
Prior to the outbreak of the war, Ukraine, like everyone else, suffered from Covid, so the students and teachers was used to digital teaching. But before the pandemic, Dnipro University of Technology was a classic campus university with digital platforms. Tetiana explains that she has over 20 years of experience in digital education (e-learning).
”Students get in touch in many different ways, they can call, email, or send messages from digital platforms. Occasionally, students have called from the front line and asked if they can submit their work in a couple of hours, because at the moment there is an attack going on.”
Teachers and students of the Department of Marketing at Dnipro University of Technology during blackout, the photo is from December 21, 2022.
The students don’t have their cameras on at online education, because the connection can only handle one camera, and the teacher has that one. The students are very keen to participate however they can. They even try to connect during blackouts, when the power is not working. Tetiana is happy with her work, she works hard because it helps as a distraction, but she admits that giving exams can be a problem.
”We are tolerant and create different solutions. Often there are oral reports and students are given several exam dates to choose from. This is not easy for the examining professor, but we need to give the students more opportunities.”
The University is important on many levels
It is important for Ukraine that education continues in order to preserve the country's infrastructure and retain its competent university staff. Dnipro has more students now than before the war because the city has not been too exposed to the horrors of war.
”Primarily, students must be careful and take care of themselves. But it is important that they continue to study even when they are with the army, especially because that is what they want to do themselves!”
A print screen of Tetiana in a meeting with students during black out
”We find different solutions for situations that arise. What we do is important, it’s not just research and education. We also provide psychosocial support to the students and advice on what they can do when there is a power outage, and so on. It is emotional and hard, but very important.”
Tetiana Mamatova at her visit in Linköping.
Optimistic about the future
”This visit to Linköping has given me both new knowledge and lots of energy. It’s great here, but my place is in Ukraine.”
During her visit to Sweden she was told that Dnipro had been attacked. That the city was without electricity, water and internet access. Many thoughts rushed through her head before she was told that her family was unharmed.
”It is very difficult to work when I find out that colleagues, friends or students has been killed or injured or that someone has lost their home. I can only be sure of how it is in this very moment, to morrow can everything be different.”
“Of course, sometimes I think I should evacuate. But I change my mind again just as quickly. I believe and hope that the war will end soon. I want to celebrate, and after that I look forward to creating a new, functioning society with better buildings, houses and electricity supply than we had before the war. Having these thoughts helps me get through what is difficult right now.”