Sa, 2.12.2023

Russian students nearing graduation were granted ome relief

For Danila Sviridov, who is studying at Tartu University's Narva College, the government's recent decision came as happy news.
For Danila Sviridov, who is studying at Tartu University's Narva College, the government's recent decision came as happy news. Photo: Kermo Benrot
  • The students’ residence permits will be extended by one year to allow them complete their studies.
  • The issuing of visas to Russian citizens will be restricted.
  • Many students would face hard times or even prison when they return to Russia.

The increasing social pressure this week brought a result: the government is extending the residence permit of students who are Russian citizens and are about to finish their studies. Access to Estonia was made even more difficult for other Russian citizens.

At yesterday's sitting, the government imposed a sanction which restricts both the issuing of visas to citizens of the Russian Federation and entry into the country with a Schengen visa issued by Estonia. Already in the spring, the issuing of tourist visas to Russian citizens was temporarily suspended, now the entry of Russian citizens already possessing visas will be restricted as well.

At the same time, the students residing here received a significant relief.

At the proposal of Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE), the government decided to extend the residence permits of students by one year because the situation created by the sanctions imposed in the spring needed a solution. The students from Russia who did not manage to finish their studies in the nominal time therefore found themselves in an unexpected situation.

Unwilling to return home

For Danila Sviridov, who is studying at Tartu University's Narva College, the government's recent decision came as happy news. At the beginning of this week the Russian students were still in the dark.

They attempted to bring clarity to further developments and explain the situation to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas who recently visited the border town. However, before the government's recent decision, Danila Sviridov managed to write to the Chancellor of Justice and the Federation of Estonian Student Unions in order to learn what he was supposed to do because returning to the homeland was also out of the question due to the situation prevailing there.

«This is very good news, I am very grateful to the Estonian government. I have studied at Narva College for three years. The first year was a year of Estonian language [studies], followed by two years of specialized studies in youth work. I am in my last year and I have to defend my diploma,» said the 21-year-old Sviridov.

The young man added that the decision allowing him to continue his studies solves the primary concern, but there is still uncertainty about the future. «If this [news] is true, then everything will be fine and I shall manage to finish my studies. At the same time, I have to think about how to plan my further life. I viewed my future in connection with Estonia – I want to do research and continue my studies at the University of Tartu,» he said. «But since the sanctions do not give us such a right, we have to think about other options.»

For Danila Sviridov, who is studying at Tartu University's Narva College, the government's recent decision came as happy news.
For Danila Sviridov, who is studying at Tartu University's Narva College, the government's recent decision came as happy news. Photo: Kermo Benrot

Sviridov, a resident of St. Petersburg, does not want to return to his homeland. «I have become used to Estonia and I do not see my future in Russia, because how could I plan my life in a country which supports war and aggression,» he said. According to the young man, the situation is made even more complicated by the fact that, since he and his friends have helped Ukrainian war refugees, he could immediately be sent to prison according to Russia’s laws.

Albina Abzalova, who is studying political science at the University of Tartu and should receive her diploma certifying her higher education in six months, also heard about the government's decision from Postimees. She remarked that that despite everything, it would not significantly improve her mood. «These are not sanctions against the [Russian] government, but against individuals. The students studying here are not affected much by what is happening,» said 33-year-old Abzalova. «What future plans can I make? Certainly not in Estonia. Thank you for giving me time to study here for at least one year. However, in the grand scheme of things, this is not very helpful, because how can you find employment in this situation? I do not think anything will change in the future,» she said.

Albina Abzalova added that although she likes Estonia and cherished the idea of ​​staying here to live and work, at the moment she does not intend to stay here mainly because of the negative attitude towards all Russians. «What I have heard in the news in the last few weeks from Finnish and Estonian politicians, as well as [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy – that all Russians are the same – is nonsense. Everyone understands that traveling to Russia is dangerous. Why should I therefore sign some document that proves that I am a «good Russian»? It's the same nonsense. People living in Europe do not understand what it means to live inthe conditions of total dictatorship,» said Abzalova.

An all-European Union agreement is being sought

For many of these young people, it may be dangerous to return home in the current situation, because they have spoken out in defense of Ukraine and criticized Russian aggression and the regime, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets justified the government's decision. «This is punishable under criminal law in Russia, and therefore it was necessary to exceptionally extend the residence permits of these students by one year so that they could finish their studies here,» added the Minister of the Interior.

Läänemets emphasized that it supports the initiative of Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu to prevent the issuing of Schengen tourist visas to Russian citizens. «Citizens of Russia must understand that their country has started a war against Europe, its principles and values. At a time when the Ukrainian people are suffering, vacationing in Europe cannot be a self-evident freedom for Russian citizens,» said the minister.

According to him, they are already looking for ways to prevent the freedom of movement of Russian citizens, but for a real effect, it is necessary to implement visa restrictions in all European Union member countries. «Restrictions by individual countries would have little effect in practice. In addition, we would thereby break the unity of the European Union in the sanctions policy. This is why the minister of foreign affairs must be supported in reaching an agreement on this matter within the European Union,» Läänemets said.

The changes will take effect next week.