A UK charity has reported that record numbers of Ukrainian and Russian academics and their families have been rescued in the past 18 months since the start of the war in Ukraine, the highest number since the charity was established in the 1930s to rescue academics from Nazi oppression.

The news was announced last week by the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara), a charity founded to rescue academics and their families from persecution, violence and conflict and find places for them at leading UK universities, where they can continue their vital research in safety.

More than 210 Ukrainian academics have now been supported in finding places at the UK’s leading universities including the University of Oxford, University College London, Durham University and others. These academics are being supported by Cara both directly and through Cara’s close engagement with the UK Government-funded, British Academy-led Researchers at Risk programme.

“UK universities are leading the way in providing support for some of the world’s most gifted minds,” says Stephen Wordsworth, executive director of Cara. “Cara is now receiving more requests for help than at any time since we were founded in the 1930s. The Ukraine conflict is just one example; there are many other countries too where academics face heightened risks from conflict.”

Now in its 90th year, Cara works to provide temporary safe havens for scholars fleeing violence, repression and threats to intellectual and individual freedom. The charity supports their escape, and often that of their families, using its long experience and extensive network of contacts to help them to find top academic placements around the UK, putting together a package of funding support and practical arrangements including visas sponsored by the host universities to enable them to continue their work in safety.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not only wreaked widespread devastation on Ukraine’s infrastructure and production capacities, it has also led to unprecedented losses of the country’s human capital. Using sources from the UN and others, the recent European Bank for Reconstruction and Development report has assessed the brain drain from Ukraine. Of a 2021 population of 41.4 million, an estimated 7.8 million people have left Ukraine and another 6.5 million are internally displaced.

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From missiles in Kyiv to the University of London

The vast majority of Ukrainian academics rescued by Cara are women, as male Ukrainian citizens aged 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country. Many of them are alone or with small children, having had to leave their husbands, partners and other family members behind.

Dr Nadia Lolina is an academic currently supported by Cara, one of more than six million Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s illegal invasion, with approximately 210,000 now living in the UK. Before the war, she was an accomplished researcher and university lecturer in Urban and Public Art. 

As Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in February 2022, she fled the daily rocket attacks in Kyiv to find shelter in western Ukraine and was separated from her husband and parents. It took her ten days to evacuate via train to Lviv, where she then had to take a bus to Ivano-Frankivsk. From there, she boarded the once-weekly bus to Riga, Latvia, and arrived 37 hours later.

Facing homelessness in Riga, Dr Lolina was able to travel to the UK under a Homes for Ukraine visa, with Cara arranging funding through the Institute of Historical Research for a place at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, where she was able continue her post-doctoral research. Today, she remains separated from her family, who live under constant threat in Kyiv.

Since the outbreak of the war in February 2022, Cara has so far also rescued ten Russian academics who have openly criticised the war and Putin’s regime.

One of these ten is Dr Bravslov*, a prominent academic in his field who signed open petitions and letters criticising Russia’s full-scale invasion. He witnessed colleagues being dismissed from their positions and arrested on spurious charges for voicing their criticisms of the Russian Government and the war, so he fled with his wife to a neighbouring country. There, Dr Bravslov contacted Cara, who helped him to escape persecution and secure a university placement in the UK.

Cara was founded in 1933 by leading academics, scientists and public figures in the UK to support academics fleeing Nazi persecution. Albert Einstein took part in a major fundraising event at the Albert Hall in October 1933, noting in his speech that without academic freedom “there would have been no Shakespeare, no Goethe, no Newton, no Faraday, no Pasteur and no Lister […] most people would lead a dull life of slavery”.

Cara is now receiving more requests for help than at any time since the 1930s, with the majority of appeals coming from Ukraine, the Middle East, Sudan and Afghanistan. Some 170 Cara fellows from 17 different countries, who have been directly rescued by the charity, are currently in placements at UK universities.

*This person’s name has been concealed to protect their identity.