higher education in Ukraine
The Russian invasion in 2022 has drastically impacted the Ukrainian education system; particularly higher education in Ukraine. Ukrainian universities attracted students from all over the world. There were students from Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Latin American countries. These universities were popular among foreign students as they offered quality education at lower costs than Western universities. Ukrainian universities offered a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Ukrainian and English fields.

In Ukraine, 83% of young adults between 18 and 24 were enrolled in higher education at the time of the Russian incursion in 2022. Many Ukrainian educational institutions closed down and educational resources and supplies went to support the war effort or the Russian military confiscated them. As a result, higher education in Ukraine faced high disruption.

The number of available learning opportunities and opportunities for students to access high-quality education decreased because of the Russian invasion. Many higher education institutions in Ukraine are closed or destroyed and need more resources and infrastructure. In addition, this further disrupts students’ coursework because of the cancelation and relocation of the courses.

Allies Offer Stop-Gap Measures

Ukraine’s allies who have provided a wide range of assistance in response to the Russian invasion include the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Australia and Japan. The European Union has also assisted Ukraine, including humanitarian aid and economic support. The United States has also provided military aid to Ukraine. Additionally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has set up a loan program and distributed $2.8 billion to help Ukraine recover from the economic damage of the crisis.

Plans for Rebuilding Higher Education in Ukraine

Ukraine continues to prioritize its higher academic institutions as it plans to rebuild investment efforts for when the Russian military incursion is over. Higher education in Ukraine collaborated with European higher education institutions to continue to fund and support student programs, according to the European University Association (EUA) briefing.

International cooperation from universities such as V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University and Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, along with initiatives such as the Twinning project Unity Initiative with 79 universities of the United Kingdom, has helped to foster international exchanges and support foreign students and teachers, according to European Associaton for International Education (EAIE). Through remote admission, flexible educational programs and the increasing range of educational programs taught in English, Ukraine’s institutions continue to strive for excellence despite the adversity. Ukraine is working in partnership with these institutions to ensure academic freedom and free speech and promote a safe and secure environment for learning.

Several universities and companies are supporting the Ukrainian government in its efforts to ensure academic freedom and free speech and promote a safe and secure learning environment. The EUA’s partnership with Ukrainian universities set in motion the following measures:

  • “Waiving EUA membership fees for all existing and new members during 2022,”
  • “Encouraging and expediting new membership applications from eligible Ukrainian institutions and organizations,”
  • “Providing access to services and events to non-member Ukrainian universities where appropriate,”
  • “Considering providing financial support for Ukrainian participation in EUA activities.”

More International Support

USAID, HP Inc., Microsoft and the Global Business Coalition for Education have partnered to provide 74,000 laptop devices to internally displaced Ukrainians and Ukrainian refugees in neighboring countries. HP Inc. has donated 5,000 laptops to support education for internally displaced Ukrainians, while Microsoft has donated software for the devices. The donation comes from USAID’s active engagement with the private sector to support Ukraine. Up to 2.8 million children have experienced displacement due to the war and a nationwide shortage of 175,000 laptops and 202,000 tablets. USAID’s Ukraine National Identity will distribute the laptops through Youth (UNITY) program in partnership with SpivDiia, a leading Ukrainian youth organization. While these laptops went to youth scholars, they provide remote learning and employment opportunities for the entire family.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) works with Ukraine and NGOs to implement recovery initiatives. The main focus of ICG’s work with Ukraine in 2022 has been to speed recovery efforts by providing a strategic framework for managing internally displaced persons (IDPs). This includes protecting the rights of Ukrainian citizens. Citizens of Ukraine and therefore, IDPs,  have a right to “pensions, medical care, social security and education, among other things.” They can also receive help finding jobs, locating free or subsidized housing, re-acquiring lost identity documents, reunifying their families and returning home.

Labster and AWS

The Ministry of Education & Science of Ukraine and Labster have partnered to provide free access to Labster’s award-winning virtual science simulations for an entire year to Ukrainian students and educators. This allows educators to integrate Labster into existing science courses and filter the more than 300 virtual lab simulations available by level of education, courses and topics for an efficient learning experience.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is helping millions of displaced students in Ukraine continue their education amid war and displacement through free cloud computing resources, training and other educational initiatives. With more than 3 million refugees fleeing their homes due to conflict, many educational institutions have turned to AWS to re-establish learning opportunities. AWS is offering cloud computing credits to 22 universities to enable them to quickly migrate critical educational resources to the cloud, helping to ensure remote learning can continue uninterrupted.

These initiatives’ future impact on Ukraine’s poverty will likely be significant. By equipping students and educators with the technology, resources and training they need to access quality education, these initiatives will help to bridge the gap between the affluent and the less privileged. This, in turn, could help reduce poverty levels and inequality. In addition, the initiatives could also help to cultivate a highly-skilled workforce that can help to drive economic growth and development. Finally, increased access to quality education can also help improve Ukrainian citizens’ health, and social and economic well-being.

– Jeannine Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Relief in Burundi with Sanctions Lifting
The United States and European Union lifted aid-focused sanctions in the past year on Burundi. After six years, the U.S. removed trade sanctions on the African country in 2021, and as of Dec. 12, 2022, the EU also lifted sanctions. Enacted during Burundi’s political crisis, the sanctions perpetuated poverty levels in the country, according to The Citizen. Burundi’s leaders look forward to accelerated economic growth and poverty relief in Burundi with sanctions lifting.

In 2015, former President Pierre Nkurunziza bid for a third consecutive term, and Burundi underwent a political crisis resulting in 1,200 deaths and 400,000 people fleeing their country. In response, the U.S. and EU imposed sanctions on Burundi to bar the corrupt allocation of relief funds and work more directly with nongovernmental agencies in the country. At the time of Nkurunziza’s third run, Burundi experienced major social disparity and political instability.

Political Instability in Burundi

At Burundi’s height of political corruption, government officials had tried to take NGO funding and inhibited meetings with donors. The U.S. and EU implemented economic sanctions to suspend direct aid to the Burundi government as a preventive measure. In the face of sanctions, the Burundi government chose a policy of confrontation over compromise, according to the International Crisis Group. External aid accounted for more than 50% of the funding for Burundi’s development projects. Once the sanctions cut foreign direct investment, life in Burundi became drastically more expensive.

Burundi’s Costs of Living Rose

Once sanctions occurred, everyday expenses and essentials sharply rose, according to the Crisis Group. Fuel shortages made commutes expensive, with bus tickets doubling and fish prices tripling to cover diesel costs. Burundians struggled with rising food and transportation costs, working multiple jobs and living off credit lines. From 2004 to 2016, Burundi’s annual growth rate fell from a gross domestic product average of 4.2% to −0.6%. Burundi’s inflation rates soared from 4.4% in 2014 to 16.4% in 2017. The Crisis Group estimates Burundi lost a decade of health and education advancements.

Poverty Reduction in Burundi

Burundi officials see the road to economic recovery and hope to boost bilateral trade ties with the reopening of the country’s borders. Burundi plans to revamp the Bujumbura trading port and two more trading posts with neighboring countries to further encourage the flow of imports and economic growth.

Poverty relief in Burundi with sanctions lifting show promise. Burundi’s inflation rates are stabilizing, dropping to 8.4% in 2021. The African Development Bank Group projects GDP growth of 4.6% in 2023, with poverty rates on track to improve.

 – Micaella Balderrama
Photo: Flickr

Mega-Gangs of Venezuela 
Heavily armed with automatic weapons, hand grenades and military equipment, meta-gangs in Venezuela are unlike typical street gangs. Often, they have more weapons than the police, launching attacks against law enforcement and driving officers from gang territory. Numbering anywhere from 50 to more than 200 members each, the mega-gangs of Venezuela rule over the fearful civilians in their territory with impunity.

The gangs have lost some of their power in recent years, but the political and economic crises in the country are driving people to join them, increasing their influence. Some of the most notorious gangs are “El Koki’s” gang, Los 70 del Valle, Tren de Aragua and El Picure.

El Koki’s Gang

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, El Koki and his allies had full control of neighborhoods such as El Valle and Cota 905 until July 2021, the latter of which served as his gang’s stronghold. El Koki is distinct from other gang leaders. He never served jail time and is running his gang outside of prison. Additionally, he has already lived to the age of 43 when the average criminal in the country’s poorest areas does not live past 25. He has also had an outstanding arrest warrant since 2012.

In 2012, the Venezuelan government developed the “peace zones” policy. It began negotiations with hundreds of gangs from all over the country. The government offered a truce in which police would stay out of designated neighborhoods if the gangs ceased criminal activity in addition to providing financial incentives for gangsters to disarm. One such incentive was the use of money and other resources meant for starting legitimate businesses.

The policy backfired, however, when gangs like El Koki’s gang began using the money to discretely acquire heavier weaponry, as reported in El Pais. El Koki and other gang leaders also took advantage of Venezuela’s criminal organizations gathering for negotiations to bolster the size of their gangs. Merging with these other groups, they formed the numerous mega-gangs of Venezuela that followed the implementation of peace zones.

The “Peace Zones”

One of the established peace zones was Cota 905. El Koki seized the opportunity there due to the lack of a permanent police presence. He strengthened his control as he killed off rival gang leaders and made alliances with others. For four years prior to June 2021, the police did not cross into Cota 905 once to enforce the law, something El Koki’s connections to the military and government may have had a hand in. In June, however, the truce between El Koki’s gang and law enforcement fully broke down. The two sides entered a war when the gang invaded the La Vega neighborhood southwest of Cota 905.

Demonstrating how empowered the mega-gangs of Venezuela have become, El Koki’s gang launched an attack on central police headquarters. The government retaliated by sending roughly 800 troops into Cota 905, where they went door to door battling the gang. According to InSight Crime, El Koki’s whereabouts are unknown. However, some have said that he may be in Cúcuta, Columbia, a common sanctuary for Venezuelan gangsters where he can continue to run his gang.

Tren de Aragua

In the state of Aragua, the mega-gang Tren de Aragua operates out of Tocorón prison. With nearly 3,000 members in groups spread across the country and expanding into nations like Columbia and Peru, Tren de Aragua, once a railroad workers’ union, is the most powerful criminal organization in Venezuela. Last spring, the gang made headlines with the completion of a baseball stadium it constructed within the prison it occupies. Reportedly possessing other luxuries such as a swimming pool and a disco hall while brandishing greater firepower than the police, the gang has demonstrated its financial success to an impoverished nation enduring an economic crisis.

Using its large arsenal, vast numbers and extreme wealth, Tren de Aragua has been able to expand rapidly as it repeatedly clashes with police and the military. Like other mega-gangs, it is alluring to people in poverty who do not get enough help from the government, have limited opportunities and are lacking in police protection. According to Mirror, to entice youths and build rapport with communities, it offers food packages at a time when much of the population faces starvation due to poor economic conditions that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened.

Police Brutality

It is not strictly poverty and recruitment efforts that motivate people to join and comply with the mega-gangs. Police brutality is another contributing factor and extrajudicial killings in retaliation for gang violence are all too common. As El Pais reported, in July 2021, more than 3,000 officers responded to gun violence between police and El Koki’s gang. There were reports of the police committing extrajudicial executions and robberies, and the circumstance resulted in 24 victims. When police assume the role of executioner and their responses to gang activity cause innocents to die, people end up in the mega-gangs for membership and protection.

The Work of NGOs

Currently, various NGOs and nonprofits are working to alleviate the situation in Venezuela. One such nonprofit is InSight Crime, which conducts investigative journalism, data analysis and makes policy suggestions for governments regarding organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. InSight Crime speaks with police and officials when doing on-the-ground research. It also interacts with people involved in illegal activity to gain their perspective.

The International Crisis Group organization advises governments on preventing, managing and resolving deadly conflicts. Additionally, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is an organization that operates in Ecuador and provides shelter and supplies to migrants who the ongoing turmoil and violence displaced. There are also local organizations such as Mi Convive, a nonprofit that feeds thousands of hungry children a week. Nonprofits providing food to children like Mi Convive are essential in preventing mega-gangs from bribing them with food.

Other Solutions

The Venezuelan government is addressing the high levels of gang violence with police reform and crackdowns to kill or drive gang leaders out of their territory. However, to put an end to organized crime and dismantle the mega-gangs of Venezuela, the government must take a complex, multifaceted approach. Corruption in politics and the military has led to impunity and the mega-gangs becoming better armed than the police. Eliminating financial incentives for organized crime is important. Otherwise, materially motivated criminals will continue to organize for profit. The police and other local public institutions should receive empowerment to rally their communities. They should act against the mega-gangs while scaling back military involvement.

The Venezuelan government, NGOs and foreign nations must work together. They have to ensure there is funding for robust social programs and that Venezuelans have economic opportunities where they live. They should be doing sufficient community outreach to sway people from the criminals and meta-gangs of Venezuela should be facing appropriate consequences.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

The Effects of COVID-19 in South OssetiaSouth Ossetia, an independent state of Georgia, closed its border with Russia in early April to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, once residents began returning home for the lockdown, cases started to increase despite mandatory quarantine for those crossing the border. South Ossetia confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on May 6. The effects of COVID-19 in South Ossetia have been devastating and continue to worsen as time goes on.

South Ossetia Divided

In mid-April, South Ossetia created a new set of regulations for all retail businesses. It required all employees to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and encouraged anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home. Despite the regulations, South Ossetia’s public was divided on how serious to handle the virus. Many citizens were frustrated with the government for taking such extreme measures and restrictions. When the first case of COVID-19 in South Ossetia appeared, the government instituted a fine of $200 to $500 to restore order and control the spread of the virus.

Cases increased to the hundreds when South Ossetia re-opened its border with Russia on September 15. South Ossetia’s healthcare system was not strong enough to handle the sudden rise in cases. Soon the president, along with many public officials, began testing positive. The Republic reported a lack of PPE and medicine. With drug and PPE prices increasing, it had to turn to North Ossetia for help. President Bibilov called on Russia to help. A field hospital was then set up in Tskhinvali with 150 beds, 150 medics and medical equipment needed to treat COVID-19.

A Failed Response

As of October 2020, COVID-19 in South Ossetia has increased to more than 650 cases. More than two-thirds of the cases were reported after the Republic reopened its border with Russia. The Republic believes that the number of cases is much higher due to many people self-isolating in their homes. Only high-risk patients were hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 in South Ossetia.

The International Crisis Group included South Ossetia on a list of regions vulnerable to COVID-19 in early May. The report included South Ossetia due to a lack of resources, support and preparedness. For example, the group reported that few doctors were able to treat patients and refused to do so because of a lack of PPE. The group also concluded that the medical staff did not have enough training to handle a pandemic. Most did not even know how to work a ventilator.

The International Crisis Group believes that South Ossetia would have benefitted from working with the World Health Organization earlier. But, unfortunately, South Ossetia refused to report vital information to the World Health Organization, such as requesting medical supplies.

In Conclusion

Overall, South Ossetia was not able to handle the severity of COVID-19, which it proved with its ill-preparedness. Most of its cases came from reopening its border with Russia, and the casualties from COVID-19 would have been much higher if Russia did not come to help. South Ossetia needs to re-evaluate its healthcare system in order to better protect its people from the COVID-19 virus.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon
The Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has internally displaced half a million people. Many are seeking refuge in forests with little access to medical care and portable water. Only recently has the world acknowledged the crisis, despite three years of growing human rights abuses driving the country to the brink of civil war.

The Makings of a Disaster

French and English are the official languages of Cameroon, which consists of 10 semi-autonomous regions. However, the Northwest and Southwest English-speaking regions have felt marginalized by the central government for decades.

Anglophones make up 20 percent of the population and have long complained of few job opportunities and the predominance of Francophones. When the government assigned French-speaking teachers and judges to anglophone schools and courts, anglophone lawyers and teachers felt that it violated their rights, leading to peaceful protests in 2016.

Government security forces responded by killing four protestors and arresting around 100, including several anglophone leaders. The government even banned civil society groups seeking a peaceful solution.

Escalating the Crisis

In 2017, an anglophone separatist group declared a new independent state called Ambazonia. In a pro-Ambazonia demonstration, security forces killed 17 people. The Borgen Project interviewed Mausi Segun, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Africa, who said, “If anyone is putting the abuses on both sides on a scale, the government has the upper hand. They have the most effective military equipment.”

Security forces have killed unarmed civilians and burned down villages. Meanwhile, authorities are arresting civilians on suspicion of supporting or belonging to the separatist movement. A number of those held on suspicion are undergoing torture.

Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, a Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute told The Borgen Project that authorities are catching civilians in a web of violence and mistaken affinity. “They can be arrested for not having their identification card,” he said.

As authorities hold anglophones in detention without trial, lose property and loved ones, resentment and distrust in the government is growing, fueling the grievances of the separatist movement. “We’re concerned the government is throwing the military, and arms and ammunition at a problem that is beyond just a military one,” Segun said.

Armed separatists have committed unlawful abuses as well, including killing security forces, kidnapping students and burning down approximately 36 schools. The International Crisis Group reported the killing of 235 soldiers, along with 1,000 separatists and 650 civilians.

Although one can blame the Anglophone Crisis on a failure of governance, Fomunyoh said that it is no longer a governance issue, “It’s now one of political insecurity.”

International Response

Cameroon now has the sixth-largest displaced population in the world. A wider conflict could threaten the entire region, impacting bordering countries such as Chad and Nigeria, who are fighting Boko Haram alongside Cameroon.

In March 2019, after three years of growing systematic violence, the U.N. human rights chief told the Cameroon government that its violent response will only fuel more violence and the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) held its first meeting on the crisis in the following May. The E.U. called on Cameroon’s government to initiate a dialogue with armed separatists and Switzerland agreed to act as a mediator.

Fomunyoh said that countries may have been slow to respond because they expected African organizations to intervene. The African Union (A.U.) is one such organization, which has intervened in precarious situations before, including South Sudan’s recent crackdown on protestors. The A.U. called on Sudan to restore civil law and expelled the country from the Union. Although the A.U. has endorsed Switzerland’s peace talks, it has yet to take further action.


Fomunyoh said that there are three divided propositions to the Anglophone Crisis, “The Amba boys who want separation, those who want a federation and those who believe the status quo is fine the way it is,” however, the first step should be to end this violence.

All parties need to agree to a cease-fire, separatists need to allow children to go back to school and the government should release anglophone prisoners so they can be part of finding a solution. Although the idea of federalism has almost become taboo, Human Rights Lawyer Felix Agbor Nkongho strongly believes it would appease all sides.

“People would have a separation of powers. People would have the autonomy,” said Nkongho. However, the government has made promises in the past it did not keep.

Cameroon’s previous federation dissolved in 1972 under the same government. So, promises to implement any agreement will not mean anything unless the government regains trust. Segun believes this can start by holding those guilty of human rights abuses accountable. “To sacrifice justice on the order peace would only lead to more violence and a crisis later, if not immediately.”

Preventing a future crisis also requires healing from the trauma, which is Fomunyoh’s biggest concern. If the country does not make investments in healing, it could threaten future security by creating an environment where corruption thrives.

“When you have dead bodies in the street when that becomes the norm, then other abuses like assault, rape, theft, are pale in comparison,” said Fomunyoh. The Anglophone Crisis can become much direr and have unintended long-lasting consequences.

International solidarity helped South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The AU and UNSC helped resolve Côte d’Ivoire’s post-election crisis. There is no reason that Cameroon cannot stop its Anglophone Crisis.

Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr


People Fleeing Central America
Many know Central America for its flourishing biodiversity and near-constant geological activity. This region is comprised of seven countries including Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are three countries that form the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA). Recently, the world is paying attention to the number of people fleeing Central America to surrounding areas like the U.S.

Every year, an estimated 500,000 people flee to Mexico to escape the NTCA. As involuntary witnesses to intense violence and economic instability, hundreds of thousands of citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala choose to make the perilous journey north in hopes of finding safer, more peaceful living conditions. Immigration through the U.S.-Mexico border is not a recent or new development. Migration levels are increasing rapidly each year. Many asylum seekers are women and children searching for a life without senseless violence.

The three countries of the NTCA are extremely dangerous, and all rank within the top 10 for homicide rates and dangerous gang activity. In 2015, El Salvador became the world’s most violent country, rampant with gang-related violence and extortion. Though El Salvador no longer holds this title, high levels of poverty and violence continue to cause a rise in people fleeing Central America.

Poverty in Central America

The NTCA includes three countries that are among the poorest in the western hemisphere. Though Latin America has seen improvement in the distribution of wealth among its citizens, many still face the devastating effects of economic inequality that plagues the region. In 2014, 10 percent of citizens in Latin America held 71 percent of the region’s wealth. As a result, one in four people live in poverty, concentrated in rural areas. The most oppressed of this population tend to be women and indigenous peoples.

Economic migration has long been a factor surrounding discussions on immigration. People often choose to live and work in places with more prosperous economic opportunity. In rural areas of the NTCA, the need for more economic opportunity leads to people fleeing Central America. Sixty percent of people living in rural regions of the NTCA is impoverished.

Unprecedented Levels of Violence

Violence within the NTCA remains a leading cause of migration to the Mexican border. Because of the high poverty level across this region, governments do not have enough funds and are rampant with corruption. Many flee from senseless, violent crimes, including gang activity, kidnapping and brutal homicides, which law enforcement does not always punish.

Gang activity within the NTCA also causes citizens to flee. Women and children are at the highest risk for rape and kidnappings. People commit gender-based violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to coerce or intimidate others. Many children make the trek to Mexico alone because they are desperate for asylum to avoid gang recruitment.

Providing Aid to the NTCA

As witnesses to the traumatic violence raging throughout the NTCA, many people fleeing Central America are in dire need of medical and mental attention. Since 2013, Doctors Without Borders has provided more than 33,000 health consultations to those fleeing from the NTCA. Care includes treatment for victims of sexual abuse and diseases caught along the way.

Additionally, Doctors Without Borders, the International Crisis Group and the U.N. Refugee Agency have made strides urging host countries, like the U.S., to provide protection rather than detaining asylum seekers and sending them back. This strategy would reduce illegal entry and allow host countries to manage the influx of asylum seekers.

– Anna Giffels
Photo: UN