North Macedonia as a refuge for Ukrainians
North Macedonia, a temporary shelter for around 1000 Ukrainians.
North Macedonia, as a so-called second-line country, is a temporary shelter for around 1000 Ukrainians, welcoming people on humanitarian grounds to take refuge from the crisis. One of those refugees is a 19-year-old student Anastasia. She came to North Macedonia together with her little sister after a family of Ukrainians who works in the Skopje Embassy offered them shelter on the first day of the war. In Ukraine, Anastasia was a philosophy student at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv where she enrolled because, as she says “…during the pandemic there was a lot of time to think, and I have always been in this search of the eternal questions of humanity, about the origin, way of thinking and so on. I came to the faculty to look for answers that I immediately understand that I will not find, but no one forbade me to try.” This curiosity and open-mindedness brought Anastasia an invitation to continue her interrupted studies at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. “Humanity is part of the mission of the staff and students of the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje. The media story about a student from the Faculty of Philosophy in Kyiv who fled the war and took refuge with her sister in Skopje encouraged us to contact the Embassy of the Republic of Ukraine in Skopje and offer the opportunity to continue Anastasia's studies, as well as extend the same offer to other students and professors from Ukraine if they arrive in our country.” – said the Dean of the Faculty, Professor Ratko Duev. Anastasia also looked back on that serendipitous TV appearance. “I was giving an interview to a local channel about the war in Ukraine and the Dean noticed me. I was given a great opportunity to continue my studies during the war at the Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje, for which I am incredibly grateful. I have already met some students. In such moments of life, support from strangers from another country is especially pleasant and necessary,” she said.
The Dean also acknowledges that even though the procedure was complicated, the Ukrainian Embassy and the Government stepped forward to help resolve the legal obstacles regarding the recognition of her studies. The faculty provided a laptop, with all the e-services of the faculty, access to e-learning platforms, databases with magazines, and textbooks so that during her stay in North Macedonia she could advance in her studies. Anastasia has also been invited to participate in the upcoming Philosophy Olympics which will be held in Ohrid. This event will be attended by 1,000 students and professors from all over the region, competing in games of knowledge, sports, and culture. Participation costs for those coming from Ukraine will be covered by the faculty.
UNHCR Representative Ms. Monica Sandri commends the act of solidarity and states that everybody should do whatever is in their power to provide meaningful and practical support to refugees, both from Ukraine and elsewhere. Universities and other higher education institutions have a unique opportunity to support young refugees whose education has been interrupted due to war or persecution. Instead of unaccomplished dreams, they can now be the beacons of light for future teachers, engineers, artists, doctors, and philosophers, like Anastasia, and set the tone of acceptance in their societies.
UNHCR North Macedonia supports the Government and all stakeholders in their effort to offer international protection to refugees by establishing a protection-sensitive entry system and asylum system fully in line with international standards, where refugees and asylum seekers can thrive and become active members of the host society. By promoting a more conducive protection environment, improving the public narrative around refugees, and establishing partnerships with various actors in the society, we work to increase the acceptance of the people we serve, and their potential to be utilized in the host countries, as well as in their homelands once they feel safe to go back.
Professor Duev confirms this notion - he says that the Faculty of Philosophy has always been open to all those who need help, the vulnerable, the refugees. “Our gates are wide open to colleagues and students from Ukraine going through the hell of war. To the best of our ability, as a faculty that for decades has led and encouraged campaigns to raise social responsibility to the community, and further nurture the world, we believe that even if one human life is saved, the debt to humanity is fulfilled. The best way to oppose evil is not with evil, but with solidarity, kindness, and humanity. Thus, evil will lose its essence.”
For now, Anastasia is still in North Macedonia, grateful for the opportunity to continue her studies in Skopje, but slowly going back to the lectures at her alma mater, since they started to hold classes online. She is eager to go back to Ukraine, graduate from the Faculty of Philosophy, and then use her skills and intellect and help rebuild Ukraine.
UNHCR estimates that until May 4, over 5.7 million people fled Ukraine, and a further 7.7 million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine, making this the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II.