Invisible University Of Ukraine In Pro-Russia Hungary (Worthy News Radio)
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – The Central European University (CEU) has launched a so-called ‘Invisible University’ for Ukrainian students facing or fleeing the war in their country. While mainly organized online, some students have also been able to meet in Budapest after a sometimes dangerous journey.
A colorful pallet of languages again resonates throughout the stylish Budapest campus of the CEU.
After most CEU teaching operations were forced to move to neighboring Austria following a conflict with Hungary’s government over freedom of education, the university looked for new activities.
One of its missions became the Invisible University for Ukraine.
The name refers mainly to underground university initiatives in Eastern Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. Amongst others, the CEU’s Invisible University targets Ukrainian students whose studies were impacted by the ongoing Russian invasion of their war-torn nation.
While most studies are provided online, dozens of students representing 11 Ukrainian Universities attended the university’s winter lecture series in person.
Among them is 18-year-old Nataliia Shuliakova, who escaped to Germany from the troubled Ukrainian region of Odesa. “For me, it was very important to live through the war and find someone with the same aspirations,” she told Worthy News.
“And who wants to restore Ukraine also thinks about how we can help Ukraine now and what will be the agenda after the war and wants to come out of this war victorious. Interestingly I didn’t know people who have a Russian background. But here at this program, my mentor in researching Odessa is a Russian person,” Shuliakova explained.
“At first, I was unsure whether I could trust him or discuss these ideas with him. But later, it became clear that he is the person who gives me hope for Russian society.”
That’s music to the ears of historian Balazs Trencsenyi, one of the program’s organizers. He says the Invisible University of Ukraine wants to avoid spreading Western propaganda.
Instead, he says, it encourages an open dialogue based on free democratic principles between people of all backgrounds. However, when asked by Worthy News, Trencsenyi admitted that those agreeing with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine aren’t welcome. “We wouldn’t cooperate with any scholar from Russia who represents a state institution or any student that doesn’t make it clear they are condemning the war. But, on the other hand, we want to clarify that Russians who condemn the war are welcome to offer their help,” he stressed.
“We don’t want any Ukrainian student to feel insecure. But we found that Russian and Ukrainian students had conversations as intellectuals with sometimes similar and sometimes different perspectives. But it was an open conversation without national hatred,” Trencseny explained.
He added that it “was emotional” for him to see that Ukrainian students told him they don’t want to hate anyone and also not be told who to hate.
That way of thinking is also encouraged at workshops and an exhibition about the war as part of efforts to seek a successful postwar reconstruction of Ukraine’s culture and society. Speakers have included Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Oleksandra Matviichuk and politicians, writers, and other experts.
At least some students are already planning to return to war-torn Ukraine, despite ongoing fighting there. They include 21-year-old Kateryna Osypchuk writing part of her study papers in a bomb shelter while following the university online. She misses her father and wants to go back to Kyiv.
“My father is in the army now. And the war continues, and nowadays, we have air raid alarms in Kyiv. It is still dangerous, and it is happening every day. So for me, this [university] was an opportunity to ground myself,” she told Worthy News.
“And to feel I could do something with other people because I was already volunteering. And I wanted to connect with people who already learn and do research and stuff like that. ”
Asked whether she had considered the dangers of returning to Kyiv, she said: “I can’t imagine my life without my country and my city. About the aspect of it being dangerous, well, we have shelters. So it is fine. Russians are bombing our electricity and facilities like that. But we have this beautiful schedule when we have electricity. Our workers repair it 24 hours each day,” Osypchuk added with a smile.
“And I want to contribute to my city in reconstruction in many ways because I am also a historical guide. So it is really about the community and the historical background. It is part of my heart, and I can’t imagine it otherwise.”
Students like Kateryna could also attend lectures by British author and filmmaker Jane Rogoyska about her book “Surviving Katyn.” It’s about The Katyn Massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war, most of them officers, in occupied Poland.
They were killed in April and May 1940 by special forces of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. For nearly fifty years, the then-Soviet Union succeeded in maintaining the fiction that Katyn was an atrocity committed by Nazi Germany.
The story remained unchallenged by Western governments fearful of upsetting a powerful wartime ally and Cold War adversary. Only after the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was the truth revealed. Rogoyska now hopes it won’t take long to expose Russian war crimes in Ukraine.
“For the Ukrainian students, this is a live issue. It is still ongoing. It is not yet history. But in 50 or 80 years, this will be a historical event. And so, how do we present evidence?” she explained to Worthy News.
“How do we write about these things with authenticity? That is a really important question; Katyn can teach us much about that. And the other tragic reflection is that there are a lot of parallels,” she said. Putin, don’t forget, was trained in the KGB, and there is a kind of lineage in the methodology of how they construct false narratives, deny things, and silence witnesses and intimidate people,” Rogoyska argued.
“And the long history of Katyn is a really lengthy example of the length to which the NKVB and the subsequent KGB were prepared to go to suppress one narrative and suppress it with another narrative,” she added.
Ukrainian students are now encouraged to realize that they, too, are living through historic times. While Hungary’s government has close relations with Russia, organizers hope to continue hosting the Invisible University of Ukraine in the CEU premises of Budapest.
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