American Plans to Stay in Ukraine, Open University, Despite Rising Tensions

An American university in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, is planning to open next month despite warnings from the U.S. that evacuations are necessary.

On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price urged American citizens to leave Ukraine as quickly as possible, and President Joe Biden gave a similar announcement in an interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt last week.

As tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue to grow, the American University Kyiv is planning to launch its first classes in March, and the university's founder, Roman Sheremeta, plans to remain in Ukraine to oversee the opening.

The university, Sheremeta told Newsweek, is "a beacon of hope. We can change things through this institution."

Sheremeta is now a professor at Case Western Reserve University, but before coming to the U.S., he spent the first half of his life in Ukraine, and now has dual citizenship, which he says puts him in a "very unique position."

"I can come and do something that not as many people would be able to do," he said. "I have this kind of split part of my soul in both countries."

The university's main goals, Sheremeta said, are to create leaders who will help Ukraine economically, solve societal challenges the country is facing, and be a "catalyst of change for the higher education system of Ukraine."

And despite signs pointing to war between Ukraine and Russia, Sheremeta remains hopeful that the university will achieve its goals.

"This is a project of hope. In the midst of all this darkness and the negative things that are happening, it would be wrong to take away the hope and close down because somebody said something in the West," said Sheremeta in response to being asked about Biden's evacuation orders.

The American University in Kyiv hopes to have in-person classes, but as the pressures along the border mount, Sheremeta stated that "we will be ready" if things take a turn for the worst.

"If things were to go south, we will just go online," he added. The university has partnered with Arizona State University in Tempe to create online programs as well as in-person classes.

While Russia President Vladimir Putin has put an estimated 150,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, Sheremeta stated that a full-on invasion of Ukraine would not end well for Russia.

"If Putin were to attack Ukraine, it's gonna cost him his country," he said. "Ukraine has a very strong military. One of the best militaries in Europe. We have so much help in the West and it's just not going to be easy unless he quadruples what he has on the border."

Still, Ukraine struggles economically due to Russia's presence. "For Putin strategically, this situation is the best scenario for him. He wants to keep a constant tension, because Ukraine right now is suffering a lot," Sheremeta said. "Ukrainian currency is devaluing. Stocks and bonds are really suffering right now. People are pulling money out because there's a threat."

Sheremeta's faith in the American University in Kyiv holds to his faith that the opportunity for education will help grow young leaders who will help Ukraine out of its economic stagnation.

"Ukraine is suffering drastic economic consequences without a single shot being fired," he said.

Update 2/18/2022 4:36 p.m. This story has been updated to include more background on Sheremeta.

Ukraine Marks Newly Created Unity Day Amid
An American University plans to open in Kyiv next month despite orders from U.S. to evacuate, as Putin continues to add pressure at the Ukrainian border. In this photo, a family walks past a tank displayed at the Motherland Monument on newly created "Unity Day" on February 16 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Chris McGrath/Getty Images