Russian students in Narva: returning home is tantamount to suicide (2)

Margus Martin
, ajakirjanik
Students Adam Alidibirov (second from left) and Alina Abramova (third) who came to study and work in Estonia from Russia are happy to see their future in Estonia and are ready to contribute to the country.
Students Adam Alidibirov (second from left) and Alina Abramova (third) who came to study and work in Estonia from Russia are happy to see their future in Estonia and are ready to contribute to the country. Photo: FOTO: Konstantin Sednev
  • Disappointment at the university’s failure to offer support.
  • Seeking hastily „the love of one’s life” is not an encouraging idea.
  • The rectors will meet and can discuss the issue as well.

The board of the Riigikogu accepted a collective appeal asking for help to students who are Russian citizens and wish to stay in Estonia. The petition forwarded to the Foreign Affairs Committee gathered 2,223 signatures in less than 24 hours in August.

Adam Alidibirov, a student of Tartu University's Narva College who initiated the petition, told Postimees that when the Estonian government decided to extend the residence permit of Russian and Belarusian students studying here by one year, it seemed to many that the problem was solved. “But it is not like that,” the student admitted. “Initially, it was said that the study permits would be extended, and Veiko Kommusaar, [Deputy Secretary General of internal security of the Ministry of the Interior] also spoke about this, but in fact nothing has changed [in the essence of the matter].”

According to Alidibirov, he is primarily disappointed that his home university is not willing to publicly support the students who came under threat. “Estonia's largest university refuses to help its students in a difficult moment, writing to me that “it is not our decision and we cannot do anything”, and leaves them at the mercy only because they were born in a certain country,” he noted. “They know who I am, what I do, and they know better than others which students are currently in a difficult situation. Despite this, the university does not intend to help its students. At least we are not told about it and we do not see any moves in that direction. Instead, I see the problem being ignored.”

Alidibirov came to study in Estonia from Chechnya. He remembers well the war in his homeland and its consequences. “I remember how as children we heard the sound of helicopters and ran to hide because shooting could start at any moment. Therefore, I share the concerns of the Ukrainians, I am against the war and the people who started it,” he said.

As soon as Russia invaded Ukraine, Alidibirov thought about what he could do for the Ukrainian people. He helped Ukrainian war refugees prepare applications to support them with psychological help. “But since Estonia decided to deport me, I can no longer help anyone, but now I have to think about where to go myself,” the young man said.

To leave, to get married or to appeal for asylum?

Alidibirov says that he was essentially left homeless in his new situation because he has no money to travel to another country. “Returning to Russia would be tantamount to suicide for me. This [decree] is a clear example of how such [political] decisions hurt everyone and everything,” he added.

Alidibirov's fellow student Alina Abramova has the same concern. According to the Russian girl, in a situation where all visas and residence permits are ruled out, applying for asylum or getting married are some of the few options. “As the practice highlighted in social networks shows, the theoretical likelihood of getting political asylum is low, and if there is no criminal procedure against one in the country of origin, the probability of receiving asylum is almost zero,” Abramova said. “Marriage is, of course, a different story, but the idea of ​​hastily looking for the “love of my life” is certainly not encouraging.”

According to Abramova, many friends of fate are facing the same problem. “Students who cannot use the above opportunities have to return to Russia, which is like suicide for us now, or look for another country of residence,” she said.

According to her, in this case, everyone loses – both the students under threat and the Estonian state. “We have repeatedly emphasized that we study here in Estonian, this means for free. In other words, at the expense of the Estonian taxpayer. Many students have combined studying with working, thus supplementing the Estonian state budget and repaying the expenses they incurred at the time.”

In Abramova's opinion, it is not insignificant that many of them work in the field of education, youth work and IT, that is, in fields where new specialists are constantly needed. At the same time, according to her, the students already speak Estonian at the B2 and C1 level. “This would help to carry out the transition to Estonian-language education, especially in East Viru County,” she offered.

Abramova added that it remains incomprehensible why students from Russia, who actively stand against the war launched by Russia in Ukraine and help refugees in every possible way, should leave the country. “Politicians think that the problem of Russian students in Estonia has now been solved. We emphasize that this is not the case. For most of us, Estonia has become a home which we have to leave forever. However, this step has been postponed for a year.”

The rectors are willing to consider the matter

Postimees spoke to a couple of Estonian university heads, who stated that although they do not know all the details of the appeal sent to the Riigikogu, they are aware of the concern. “This is not only a problem of Tartu [University], but first of all we have to follow the laws of the country. So, unfortunately, there is one basic restriction here,” said Toomas Asser, Rector of the University of Tartu and also Chairman of Universities Estonia (the council of rectors of higher education institutions).

According to him, the future can be considered in case of the students in question, who, for example, have obtained a bachelor's degree and wish to continue their studies and also work here. However, it is difficult to find a method for measuring the loyalty of such students to the Estonian state. Be it the time spent in the country and knowledge of the Estonian language or something else.

“We understand [the concern] and, in principle, we are ready to keep the issue at Universities Estonia, but we do not know at present what the government will do,” said Asser. He added that all rectors understand the seriousness of the situation at the purely human level. “It is easy to recommend to obtain refugee status, but it is not that simple and it takes time. We will meet with the rectors on Tuesday and maybe it will also be a topic of discussion,” Asser said.

“I do not have information [about the students facing the problem of extending the residence permit needed to continue their studies]. I have not heard that we have any problems,” said Mart Kalm, Rector of the Estonian Academy of Arts. “We admitted both Ukrainians and Russians [at the beginning of the new academic year], and everyone gets along well – these figures are incredibly small at the Academy – and they are studying.”

In addition to the students, the Federation of Estonian Students Unions has also expressed its opinion. In the appeal sent to the government in August, they called for amending the regulation on the restrictions on Russian and Belarusian students studying in Estonia in a way permitting the students already studying to complete their education.

According to the Estonian Education Information System, 60 Belarusian and 453 Russian students study in Estonian higher education institutions, of which five Belarusian and 58 Russian students have exceeded the nominal study period, respectively.

According to the Ministry of Education and Research, the regulation of the government of July 30 was amended in August, and this regulation will not be applied to Russian citizens who apply for a one-time extension of a temporary residence permit granted for study by up to one year. In other words, an additional exception has been made for students who are citizens of Russia. This regulation sets no restrictions to students from Belarus.

The petition

The appeal submitted to the Riigikogu reads:

“We, the Russian students studying in Estonia, are appealing to the Estonian government to review the 30 July, 2022, regulation prohibiting the renewal of study residence permits and the issuing of new residence permits to citizens of Russia who are legally staying in Estonia.

We ask the Estonian government to review the ban on granting study residence permits to students from Russia who will be admitted to Estonian universities in 2022.

We ask the Estonian government to review the regulation of 09 April 2022, which prohibits the granting of a residence permit for work and entrepreneurship to Russian citizens who have obtained a higher education in Estonia, who have previous ground for legal stay in the country and a job offer from an Estonian employer.”