Seed World

Survival – Ordeals of an Agricultural University in Ukraine: Part 1

Editor’s note:

Our goal of European Seed — Seed World’s sister publication — is to bring our readers, the most relevant news, insight, and perspective from across the global seed industry. Two months ago, our European Seed editorial director, Marcel Bruins, heard Dr. Serhii Kiurchev, doctor of technical sciences, professor, and rector of the Dmytro Motornyi Tavria State Agrotechnological University (TSATU) University in Melitopol, Ukraine, speak in a webinar series. His personal account of trying to continue his research programs and teaching despite war gave a unique face and perspective to the terrible situation unfolding in Ukraine. Since Ukraine is such a critical link in the global food supply system, and since educating tomorrow’s scientists is so vital to agricultural success and succession, Marcel reached out to Dr. Kiurchev to ask if he’d write an account of his experiences for our magazine. The following is that account, written despite frequent power outages and delivered to us despite near constant shelling.

The year 2022 began, as always, with many new ideas, tasks, plans for the future, and we were thinking about how we would celebrate the 90th anniversary of our glorious university — the TSATU — in September 2022. But almost two months later, the war broke out. It is still hard to believe that this can happen in today’s world. I want to tell you about the terrible events in my hometown (Melitopol), about the extraordinary deeds of ordinary people and about the steps taken by the university.

Colleges and Faculties

The University has five faculties and six colleges, geographically located in almost all agricultural cities of the Azov region in southeastern Ukraine. In total, more than 7,000 students study at the university center, who were forced to leave their homes and are now scattered around the world and have to study online. The occupiers have seized all academic buildings, laboratories and agricultural lands of the university and colleges. Our university is constantly involved in activities to disseminate real information about the aggression against our Ukrainian people. The entire world community should know how it really is and understand what hell every Ukrainian is going through right now, and at what cost we are fighting for our freedom.

February 24, 2022

February 24, 2022 is the date that divided the lives of all Ukrainians into “before” and “after”. Dreams, plans, and prospects for development are now in the past. We now have the red line that separates the past from the present. Melitopol has always been considered a strategic city, the gateway to the Crimea, and this played a sad role for the city in wartime. Melitopol was occupied on the first day of the war. On May 27, 2022, the enemy occupied the university buildings, and the occupation authorities announced the creation of a pseudo-university – Melitopol State University. 

Rector Serhii Kiurchev of TSATU.

During the hostilities, the Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science organized the relocation of 17 universities from the occupied territories. Among them, three universities from the Zaporizhzhia region, five universities from the Kherson region and eight universities from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Together, 35,300 students and 4,000 teachers work in these educational institutions. 

The occupiers took away the official documents of students, teachers, contracts with partners and the university archive. From the very first days of the occupation, all online content was blocked. All computer equipment, multimedia equipment, laboratory devices, agricultural machinery, and equipment and agricultural land were seized. The homes of teachers and students who remained under occupation, are periodically searched. Teaching and learning in the Ukrainian educational institutions are prohibited for them, even online. 

After seizing the building of TSATU, the occupiers destroyed the archive and collection of unique books written in the Ukrainian language. Before the war, the library’s collection consisted of more than 400,000 sources and was the largest in the Zaporizhzhia region. 

The loss of infrastructure was the most painful problem as this directly affects the ability to provide quality education and conduct scientific activities. 

Steps of Relocation

Starting in 2022, during a year of full-scale war, TSATU’s administration, supervisory board, teachers, and students took incredible steps to preserve the university and its proper functioning even during the occupation. 

It was the people — the university community — that proved to be the cores that allowed us to hold our ground and continue working. The dedication of many teachers, students, and staff of the university was impressive. Many of them made a difficult decision to leave their homes and leave Melitopol, refusing to accept the occupation.

At the risk of life, the University’s staff managed to remove the University’s servers, disk drives, seals, and official documents. The 63-mile route from Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia lay through 20 occupational checkpoints. 

Since then, almost all problems related to cyber security have been resolved. With support, 110 laptops, 13 multifunctional devices and four servers were purchased for the continuous operation of university sites and online training. We needed to start from scratch but after four months we relaunched the official website of TSATU.

Part 2 of this article will be released tomorrow.