A safer place for scholars

Many within the College of LAS join the Illinois Scholars at Risk Program to assist faculty members fleeing danger at home
Wrecked classroom
Image from Adobe Stock

Pavlo Dziuba had a long career in Ukraine before everything changed in 2022.

For 20 years he worked as a professor of international finance at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and lived with his family in a small town of Irpin 16 miles outside of Kyiv. They stayed there even after Russia invaded—until one day their house was hit by a bomb.

“Our house was substantially damaged,” said Pavlo. “We actually lost all the windows, all the glass available, and the heating room of the house was completely destroyed.”

With the house uninhabitable, he and his family were forced to leave. Pavlo had heard about the Scholars at Risk program, an international network of academic institutions that offers assistance to scholars who face danger at home. Pavlo applied and received a temporary faculty position in the Department of Economics at the U of I.

He’s one of several scholars from around the world who have come to U of I after receiving visiting faculty positions through the program. Colleen Murphy, Roger and Stephany Joslin Professor of Law and professor of philosophy and political science, and director of the Women & Gender in Global Perspectives Program, chairs the program and said that U of I joined the Scholars at Risk network in 2022. 

“The Illinois Scholars at Risk Program is one important way that Illinois addresses grand challenges and has a global impact,” said Murphy. “It is incredibly rewarding to see colleges and departments from across campus support colleagues from across the globe facing acute risks and to hear from scholars about the difference the program has made in their lives.”   

Professors involved with SAR program
From left: Pavlo Dziuba, Elena Koptieva, and Colleen Murphy.

So far the program has brought seven scholars to campus from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Guatemala, Lebanon, and Ukraine. Most are currently within the College of LAS, but several academic units have supported the scholars, including the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, the Program in Jewish Culture and Society, the departments of Economics, Biochemistry, Pathobiology, Physics, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and several others.

Salary support for the scholars comes from the host departments, supporting units, central campus funds, and other university sources and outside fellowships. A local housing company, Fairlawn Real Estate, has partnered with the program to offer furnished apartments at reduced rates to the scholars and their families, and the Intensive English Institute offers support to scholars who desire additional language training. 

Elena Koptieva was the first scholar to join the program at Illinois. For almost 10 years before Russia invaded Ukraine, Elena was a professor at Dnipro National University in Dnipro, Ukraine. She lived with her family across the river from a large airport that was bombed at the start of the invasion. “It started at 4 a.m. in the morning and we woke up from the sounds of explosions,” said Elena. “There was a panic of course, many people were trying to leave central and eastern parts to migrate to the west of Ukraine, which was considered the safest place.”

When her home became too dangerous, Elena moved to the Czech Republic. Traveling there was difficult because of the panic of many people trying to leave Ukraine.

“While staying in the Czech Republic, I had received mail from the head of the physics department of the University of Illinois, where they announced a program for support for Ukrainian physicists,” recalled Elena.

She applied and came to U of I through the Scholars at Risk program in fall 2022 to begin work as a faculty member in the Department of Physics. Now she lives in Champaign with her two children while her husband remains in Ukraine fighting in the war.

Elena said that she has inexpressible gratitude toward the program and everyone she has met at U of I. She strives to be a valuable part of the academic community by continuing to conduct research and teaching courses. Last fall she taught PHYS 225 Relativity & Math Applications.

“I’m just grateful to the whole community, to my colleagues,” said Elena. “I feel that I am not alone.”

Pavlo has lived in Urbana for several months. His son attends a local elementary school. Pavlo is grateful for the Illinois Scholars at Risk Program and added that it’s given him an opportunity to continue teaching and research during a trying time for his family and career. He is conducting research on how the Ukrainian economy will develop during wartime and restoration. This spring he is teaching ECON 420 International Economics and ECON 469 Economics of Risk.

“This initiative is worth further development,” said Pavlo, of the program. “I hope it will be able to host more scholars, particularly from Ukraine.”

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of The Quadrangle.

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Maggie Knutte