Rocket strikes on universities | Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy»

Rocket strikes on universities

From the first days of the full-scale war, the targets of the Russian shelling were educational infrastructure facilities – school buildings, kindergartens, universities. The Ministry of Education and Science has even created a special site with an interactive map of the destruction, but the amount of damage is increasing faster than the moderators have time to update the information on the site. However, even these incomplete statistics show that the educational infrastructure of Kharkiv region, which is at the epicenter of hostilities, has suffered, perhaps, the most in Ukraine.

At the same time, the destruction of universities is a double blow to the education system and the scientific potential of the state, and thus double damage to the economy, which is extremely difficult to assess. Whether Kharkiv universities were able to adapt to the conditions of the war and what damage the occupiers are causing to the educational infrastructure – we investigate in the material of the Analytical Center «Observatory for Democracy». 

Learning against war 

Before the war, Kharkiv had a reputation as the «student capital» of Ukraine, and this was entirely due to both quantitative and qualitative indicators. A total of more than 160,000 students, including about 12,000 foreign students, studied in forty institutions of higher education of III-IV levels of accreditation. In various international rankings, Kharkiv universities occupied leading positions among Ukrainian representatives and consistently ranked in the Top 1000 of the best higher education institutions in the world.

In general, the preservation of Kharkiv’s educational and scientific potential during the war is not only a question of the city’s identity as a «student capital», but also important for the economic development of Kharkiv and Ukraine. This was stated, in particular, on April 5 by the head of the Kharkiv Military Civil Administration Oleg Sinegubov at a meeting with rectors of Kharkiv universities – the first such event since the beginning of a full-scale invasion of  the Russian Federation.

It is noteworthy that just a day before the meeting of the head of the region with the rectors (some were present offline at V.N Karazin Kharkiv National University, others – online), in fact, the last of the leading Kharkiv universities resumed the educational process. An analysis of the official websites of the Top 20 (according to places in international and national rankings) of Kharkiv higher education institutions showed that during the second half of March and early April, they all resumed the distance learning process.

Source: information from the official websites of higher education institutions.

* information on the activities of military-defense educational institutions during martial law is not disclosed or provided. 

On average, Kharkiv universities needed about a month to recover and adapt to the realities of wartime – at this time the educational (in most cases scientific) process was suspended, the employees received 2/3 of their salary during the “downtime” (minimum wage guaranteed by the law  in such a case).

At the same time, it would be incorrect to assess educational institutions solely by the speed with which the educational process resumes as, objectively, the universities were in different conditions and suffered varying degrees of destruction from the Russian shelling. The People’s Ukrainian Academy and the State Biotechnology University were among the first to announce the resumption of studies on March 14.

However, not without nuances: for example, in a message on the NUA’s website of March 15, a rather cautious wording was chosen about «restoring the elements of educational process». And the State University of Biotechnology has become almost the only one of Kharkiv universities that has decided to evacuate (to the Transcarpathian region), but this evacuation has not yet affected the majority of staff and students. The message on the official website states that the order of the Ministry of Education and Science of the University provided two premises in Uzhgorod and Mukachevo, respectively, we can assume that the focus in the forthcoming admission campaign will shift from Kharkiv region entrants to Transcarpathian graduates (similar processes may begin with the teaching staff, especially after the transition to the classroom format), thus the educational potential of our region will be significantly damaged.

Some higher educational institutions in Kharkiv (objectively, those not among the leading ones) have not resumed the educational process. For example, this applies to the Kharkiv Institute of Trade and Economics and the Kharkiv Academy of Humanities and Education. However, an extremely important issue is what  the renewed educational process in Kharkiv universities is.

Firstly, all the universities are talking exclusively about distance education as full-time studying is currently impossible in Kharkiv for security reasons. Secondly, most universities claim a combination of asynchronous and synchronous distance education formats. In fact, it provides an oppjrtunity  to apply an individual approach to each course depending on the circumstances of the teacher and students: either conduct synchronous classes in the format of online conferences (which requires high-speed Internet connection), or communicate asynchronously (most use the Moodle platform, Google classes and group chats in messengers like Telegram).

Interesting statistics on the technical possibilities of ensuring the quality of the process provides the site of KhNEU named after Kuznets (the university resumed its work on March 21). Thus, according to the administration of the University, 47% of applicants have the opportunity to receive educational services remotely in synchronous mode, 43% – in asynchronous mode, 6% – as of mid-April do not have the opportunity to study, and 4% of students lost contact during the war time. And, of course, this last figure is the most frightening against the background of constant reports of victims of shelling among the civilian population and mass cases of forced deportation of Ukrainian citizens to Russian Federation from the temporarily occupied territories.

Infrastucture destruction

Even a quick analysis of the official websites and social networks of Kharkiv universities allows us to get an idea of ​​the changes in university life during the war. Instead of news about scientific achievements there are reports on humanitarian aid for students, instead of conference announcements – numerous obituaries for staff, graduates and students who died during the war.

However, in April, more and more publications concerned the resumption of the educational process and, in some cases, even the future recruitment of applicants. For example, the website of the Kharkiv National Highway University published an article with the characteristic title «Broken roads and bridges are waiting to be restored. Will there be enough specialists?». And this makes sense, because the reconstruction of Ukraine and the relaunch of its economy will require specialists of various profiles. And in terms when millions of able-bodied Ukrainians have gone abroad, those are graduates of domestic universities who have to compensate for this lack of skilled labor. In turn, the problem of the future admission campaign and the search for applicants is a matter of survival for universities, because the possibility of maintaining research and teaching staff will depend on the number of entrants.

Source: photo materials from web resources of KhNADU, UIPA, V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. 

Another aspect of the survival of universities is not only the people, but also the material and technical base, which has suffered enormous damage due to Russian shelling and missile strikes. It should be noted that the heads of Kharkiv universities have taken a different position on the disclosure of information about such strikes.

The example of NAU «KhAI» is illustrative: at the end of March a number of Kharkiv Telegram channels and local media published information about the shelling of the university premises. Instead, the university administration warned the staff about the penalties for disclosing any information about the beatings: «Dissemination of information about the damage in  KhAI through photos, videos, including descriptions of the scene, through public networks in wartime is extremely inappropriate and very harmful. Now is not the time for publicity, not the time to increase the number of visitors, subscribers to their pages. You should also be aware that under certain conditions, your  publications (or the distribution of such publications) may be the ground for strict liability!».

At the same time, most of the higher education institutions whose infrastructure was affected by the Russian shelling have chosen a position of publicity and maximum attention to the problems of universities. Special funds are created for donations for the reconstruction of universities, open letters are signed with an appeal to the scientific community, charitable auctions are held to raise funds for affected students.

Currently, you can find open access footage of the destruction of Kharkiv universities, which suffered the most damage (not counting military-defence educational institutions). In particular, the Kharkiv National University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, the State University of Biotechnology (directly the building of the former Dokuchaev Agrarian University), the Ukrainian Academy of Engineering and Pedagogy, the Ukrainian State University of Railway Transport, the National Academy of Management under the President of Ukraine, the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology.

Source: photo collage from the Fb page of the Minister of Community and Territorial Development Oleksiy Chernyshov (based on photos published on the Fb page of KhNUBA).

Source: Newsroom website (pictured – State Biotechnology University building).

Source: Obozrevatel website (pictured – the premises of the National Academy of Management under the President of Ukraine). 

But the greatest damage was caused to V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. The building of the Faculty of Economics and V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University`s Business School were  completely destroyed, the premises of the Institute of Physics and Technology are under constant fire, the V.N. Karasin Kharkiv National University`s Sports Complex «Unifecht» was destroyed, two central buildings, the Museum of Nature and the campus with dormitories were severely damaged.

Source: site of V.N Karazin Kharkiv National University.

It is difficult to find logic of such targeted shelling of V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University`s infrastructure – where it is a conscious instruction to the Russian military to destroy the oldest Kharkiv university founded in 1804, and where, perhaps, it is a coincidence and error of the executor (as in the case of the building next to the regional building of the  Security Service of Ukraine and the National Police).

The other most affected faculty, the Faculty of Physics and Technology, is at the epicenter of hostilities on the outskirts of the city, as well as it is  near the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, where, according to the legend, created by the Russian leadership, nuclear weapons are being developed. Whatever the motives of the Russians are, the shelling at the Faculty of Physics and Technology damaged and destroyed the ceilings and exterior walls of the buildings. All windows and doors were knocked out due to shells hitting one of the buildings. The classrooms with research equipment and training laboratories are damaged.

Source: Internet media «» (pictured – the premises of the Faculty of Physics and Technology of  V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University).

Despite the catastrophic losses of the material and technical base, V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University resumed the working (educational and scientific) process in the remote form on March 28. In a way, adaptation to new working conditions is helped by the fact that during a long period of quarantine , distance learning courses have been developed in most disciplines and placed on the Moodle platform, containing all the necessary training materials. The period of the summer session for non-graduation courses was changed to the first half of July, which allows them to catch up with the material lost during the forced vacation. The administration encourages students who have gone abroad to study at foreign universities in parallel, and promises to enroll students on identical courses to help V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University diplomas be obtained by as many percentage of applicants as possible.

Back in early March, the administration provided opportunities to evacuate students and staff by train to Lviv and by bus to neighboring regional centers. Both in February and March, scholarships and salaries were accrued on time, certain categories of students were given the opportunity to receive financial assistance from the trade union committee, and a psychological support service for V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University residents was organized.

It is noteworthy that despite the premature statements of Deputy Minister Andriy Vitrenko, the university refused to evacuate to another city, limiting itself to creating backup facilities (servers for electronic document management and distance learning process) based on Poltava Polytechnic University. The relevant appeal of the administration, in particular, states: «V.N. Karazin Kharkov National University has been in the heart of Kharkiv since its opening. And the fates of Kharkiv and our university are indivisible. Understanding the axiom at the rector’s meeting, the university community unanimously spoke in favor of continuing to work in Kharkiv without relocation or evacuation». 

This complex decision looks consistent and deserves respect. At one time, in the XIX century, V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University played a key role as a «city-forming enterprise», contributing to the transformation of the provincial town into a powerful economic center. And while the university is currently facing perhaps the toughest test in its more than two-hundred-year history, it has prefered maintaining connection to its hometown to the illusion of evacuation security. So, no matter how much Russian shelling destroys V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University`s buildings, their intentions to eliminate the University as a symbol of Kharkiv are doomed.


The education  system of Kharkiv region has suffered a devastating blow from the Russian aggressors: 75 schools and a dozen higher education institutions have been damaged in the regional center alone. The statistics of destruction kept by the Ministry of Education and Science are incomplete and do not keep up with reality. The losses from the constant shelling, which has been going on for almost two months, from the intense fighting in various districts of the region, from the consequences of being on the temporarily occupied territories are enormous.

At this time, of course, they can not be accurately estimated in monetary terms, because even the amount of damage and the degree of damage to the buildings is difficult to be tracked quickly  (not to mention the destroyed machinery, equipment, furniture and other valuables). And if it will be possible to more or less accurately calculate the billion losses caused to the material and technical infrastructure after the war ends, how is it possible to comprehend the damage caused to Kharkiv and Ukraine from the loss of human capital – qualified scientists and talented students who are forced to change their profession or go abroad. Just as it is impossible to determine exactly the losses educational and scientific sphere of Europe suffered in the 30s and 40s of the twentieth century due to «brain drain», poverty, mortality, any of these figures of Ukraine’s potential losses now will be underestimated.

The damage done to education by the Russian invasion is not only measured by direct material damage. Children, students and young people are deprived of the opportunity to communicate and study properly, to implement their immediate plans for admission to vocational and higher education institutions. Educators are not able to work fully and ensure the proper quality of  educational process. This greatly exacerbates the psychological trauma caused by war, especially to children and adolescents. Therefore, it is obvious that it is necessary to develop an appropriate method of calculating this component of the moral damage caused by the occupiers to take it into account of the total amount of losses.

But even under such difficult conditions, Kharkiv universities set an example of rapid and competent adaptation to the realities of wartime. By the beginning of April, all the Top 20 largest leading universities in Kharkiv resumed their educational and scientific activities. 19 out of 20 decided to continue connecting their future to Kharkiv, refusing to evacuate to another city. The educational process is carried out in a distance format, a habit to which students and teachers have been forced to develop during the last two years of quarantine.

Of course, especially when training natural or medical professionals, it is extremely difficult to find an equivalent replacement for personal presence and offline activities. However, in the current situation, the policy of Kharkiv universities in March-April seems to be the «art of the possible» and is optimal in terms of  employees and students safety.