As Western nations choke Russian air travel and the number of flights departing the country dwindles, Middlebury College students studying abroad in Russia are being told to leave the country as soon as possible — before they are unable to.
Twelve students are currently studying in Russia through the program known as the Middlebury School in Russia — three from Middlebury and nine from other colleges — according to college spokesperson Sarah Ray. The program is located in two cities — Moscow, the nation’s capital, and Irkutsk, one of the largest cities in Siberia.
“Given the very limited availability of international flights out of Russia, and the U.S. Department of State’s authorization for family members and nonessential embassy staff to return to the U.S., we feel that it is time for students to leave the country,” Nana Tsikhelashvili, associate professor and director of Middlebury School in Russia, said Monday in a press release.
You’ll never miss a story with our daily headlines in your inbox.
The scramble comes as several European nations and Canada over the weekend escalated their sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine by closing their airspace to Russian planes. The United States urged Americans to consider leaving.
Dartmouth College’s Russian language study abroad program in St. Petersburg has not been running this spring, according to spokesperson Diana Lawrence. University of Vermont spokesperson Enrique Corredera did not respond to a request for comment about whether any UVM students were studying in Russia.
At the Middlebury School in Russia, participating students have been in Russia since late January or early February, according to a program description. They must take at least two years of Russian language and can study at the Irkutsk State University or at several institutions in Moscow.
The college has encouraged students to leave the country by any possible route, particularly through flying to nearby countries such as Turkey, Armenia, Serbia, India or the United Arab Emirates.
The school will also lend students money to cover the costs of travel and airfare as needed, though they will be expected to pay it back. In addition to travel, students will have to coordinate if there will be extra housing costs for leaving midsemester.
“It is very unfortunate that your time in Russia has been cut short, and so abruptly,” Tsikhelashvili said in the release. “The staff and I remain available to assist you, and we will continue our communication throughout the semester, even once you’ve left the country.”
Upon arriving back in the United States, students can take remote online classes to finish the semester or withdraw from the program, though they will not be refunded, Tsikhelashvili said.
The school’s president, Laurie Patton, sent an email to the Middlebury community condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia’s aggression against its democratic neighbor is a violation of international law, made only more egregious by its escalation in the face of international condemnation,” Patton wrote. “I join that condemnation in solidarity with our Middlebury community.”
The school has been working with students “from “Ukraine, Russia, and surrounding states to support them and their families,” Patton said.
Throughout this week, Middlebury will also be running five virtual and in-person events focusing on helping students respond to and understand the invasion and its context, in addition to other events being planned for the near future.
If you want to keep tabs on Vermont’s education news, sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s reporting on higher education, early childhood programs and K-12 education policy.