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Mentor network for students and researchers affected by war in Ukraine: 'These are our colleagues'

When Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February, normal life there came to a halt. To ensure that affected students and researchers can continue their studies and work, professor Ellen Rutten (UvA) and assistant professor Dorine Schellens (Leiden) set up an international mentor network.

'Just after the invasion, Ellen Rutten and I saw each other during the demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine on Dam Square, Amsterdam. I knew she was working on the project The University of New Europe, which aims to establish a new university where at least half of the study and work places will be available to students and staff from countries where academic freedom is at stake.  Because of the war, something also had to be done in the short term. A day later, she e-mailed about setting up an international mentor network for students and academics,' says Schellens. Researchers from several European countries have made themselves available to offer support in their own countries or virtually.  In the first place, the network focuses on the large groups of students and scientists from Ukraine who have been hit hardest by the war. In addition, the network is open to people from Belarus and Russia who are at risk of persecution or have had to flee the country as a result of statements they have made or actions they have taken against the war.  

Listening and thinking along

Researchers who need help can register with the organisation. They are then matched with a mentor. 'As a mentor, you listen and think along about possible ways to help. What people need is very different. Some have had to leave their country and are looking for another job. Others need more of a conversation. Since the start of the network at the end of February, over 230 mentees have been matched with just as many mentors. It has grown pretty quickly and is still growing,' says Schellens.   

In addition, all mentees and mentors are given access to a database that has been compiled with relevant emergency information as a basis for the discussions. 'This way, not everyone has to reinvent the wheel every time,' she explains. 'Suppose you have fled from Ukraine and you are now in the European Union, what rights do you have? We try to map out questions like that in the database, but also specific information about funding and vacancies.'  

Supporting students and colleagues

Currently, the situation in Ukraine varies greatly from region to region.  Some regions have been hit especially hard by the violence of war. 'Many knowledge institutions and schools have been destroyed,' explains Schellens. 'A large part of the population has fled, both within Ukraine and abroad. People cannot continue their studies or work in the places where they were. So the academic community is in danger.' 

As an academic, Schellens therefore believes it is only natural to support her Ukrainian colleagues affected by the war, as well as Belarusian and Russian students and scientists at risk wherever possible. 'It is important to show solidarity and give concrete support where possible. These are our colleagues.'   

Photo: © European Union, 2022

The mentoring network is still looking for students and researchers who want to contribute, Schellens said. Researchers who want to sign up as mentors can contact mentoring@science-at-risk.org. Students who want to help can apply to Dorine Schellens via d.e.a.schellens@hum.leidenuniv.nl. It is useful to have knowledge of the region and languages, but it is not a requirement. 

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