Ukrainian, Russian students in France face woes as war rages on

At the start of the war, Ekaterina added money to her French account but says she has "about enough money to finance between one month and one month and a half at most", after which she "won't be able to pay" for her accommodation. [Song_about_summer/Shutterstock]

Ukrainian and Russian students in France face financial woes and find it increasingly difficult to renew their stay as the war in Ukraine impacts them despite them being several thousand kilometres away. EURACTIV France with AFP reports.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent Western sanctions, Ekaterina, a Russian student studying in France, co-founded the Twitter account “SOS étudiants Russes”, which allows them to talk about the hardships they have faced, particularly their frozen bank accounts.

“We are sort of the collateral damage” of the situation, she told AFP.

“At the moment, we are cut off from the resources sent by our families,” she added. “We can no longer withdraw money from ATMs, pay with our Russian bank cards, pay for our accommodation,” the student of geography and planning in the Aix-en-Provence said.

Ekaterina added money to her French account at the start of the war but says she has “about enough money to finance between one month and one month and a half at most”, after which she “won’t be able to pay” for her accommodation.

She is waiting for €200 in the form of a voucher from the student body known as the Crous.

She explained that the renewal of her residence permit is also an issue because “you always have to have the money needed to finance the following year”, she explained. Russian students in France have started a petition to ask for an exceptional easing of the procedure.

Alexandra, studying for a master’s degree in Slavic studies at Sorbonne University, describes a “really difficult” situation.

“Currently, French banks do not open accounts for Russians. It’s a problem,” said Alexandra, adding that she is one of the lucky ones with a French bank account, a scholarship and student accommodation.

While her being Russian has not resulted in her facing “any discrimination”, “when French people ask me where I’m from, there’s always an awkward silence,” she said.

The 21-year-old student would like to stay in France for at least one more year but is worried about her residence permit.

‘Psychologically’ difficult

“For students who are already in France and whose visas are about to expire, the official guidelines have not yet been published, but they are invited to go to the prefecture and ask for their situation to be examined,” Campus France, the agency promoting higher education system abroad said.

According to the organisation, 1,637 Ukrainian and 5,146 Russian students are currently in France.

If many more Russian and Ukrainian students were to enter France for study, as is expected, accessing support from the universities and Crous could become difficult. Many universities have already set up support systems in Bordeaux, Nantes, Angers and Lyon.

At Paris-Saclay, south of Paris, emergency social assistance is also provided to Ukrainians and Russians on campus. For example, 19-year-old Oleksandra left Ukraine just before the conflict for a two-month internship. “I left without any idea that there would be war, without taking many clothes with me,” she said.

“Emotionally, it’s very difficult,” the student, worried about her family, said. “But I’m happy to have the opportunity to study and think about something else,” she added. Her supervisor has already suggested that she stay longer, and she is now wondering “how she will continue her studies”.

Similarly to the universities, the Crous network uses its emergency services, which include €1 meals for non-scholarship students living under challenging conditions and other aid programmes.

The Crous network currently houses more than 200 Ukrainian students in its residences, including 25-year-old Nataliia Kyselova, a scholarship holder studying cinema and visual arts in Lyon who has been in France since 2020.

“When the conflict broke out, it was very unexpected for me. I was in pain, so much so that I had to be hospitalised for several days because it was too difficult psychologically,” she said. “I am better now. I accept the reality. I try to be as strong as possible to help as I can,” she added, worried as she had not received news from her grandmother in Mariupol.

“It’s hard, but I’m not giving up hope,” she also said.

Kyselova is applying for financial support from the Crous and has a residence permit until January 2023. “But I’m trying to extend it because I would like to do a PhD, and it’s not easy at all,” she added.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/ Alice Taylor]

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