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Published: 2024-03-20

Building bridges through Erasmus+: Umeå University's collaboration with Ukrainian and Moldovan higher education institutions

FEATURE In a bid to foster strong academic collaboration and exchange, Umeå University has been an active participant in the Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility (ICM) programme. Through this initiative, Umeå University has established meaningful partnerships with four higher education institutions in Ukraine and Moldova.

Text: David Meyers

These partnerships are with Odesa Mechnikov National University, Kharkiv Karazin National University, and Vinnytsia National Pirogov Medical University in Ukraine, and the State University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Moldova. All institutions have a focus in the disciplines of Life Sciences, Chemistry, and Biomedicine. In February 2024, ten teachers and researchers from Ukraine and Moldova visited Umeå University during an Erasmus+ ICM mobility period.

The origin of this collaboration can be traced back to prior engagements within the High Five and High Five Reloaded projects, generously funded by the Swedish Institute. 

This is the third Erasmus+ collaboration with Odesa National University and is the first venture with the other three universities. The scope of collaboration includes the exchange of bachelor, master, and doctoral students, along with faculty and staff members in the field of Life Sciences and Bioedicine. Umeå University's faculty members have gone on exchange abroad with theoretical and practical courses in Ukraine, creating a foundation for future academic exchanges.

We have been fortunate to secure significant financial support for this collaboration.

Olena Rzhepishevska, staff scientist at the Department of Chemistry, affiliated research fellow at the Department of Clinical Microbiology, and native of Odesa, has been a driving force behind the Erasmus+ collaboration.

"We have been fortunate to secure significant financial support for this collaboration," says Olena Rzhepishevska. In total, the three Erasmus+ projects and two internationalization projects funded by the Swedish Institute amounted to approximately SEK 5 million. We are grateful for these generous contributions."

Reflecting on the war in Ukraine that has entered its third year, Olena underscores the significance of their longstanding collaboration and the dedication of their team. She emphasizes the importance of persevering through challenging times and expresses hope for the continuation of their efforts, stating, "It feels like in these difficult times we are doing the right thing, and we hope to continue."

Perspectives from two visiting teachers from Ukraine

During this mobility visit, we had the opportunity to talk with two visiting teacher-scientists from Ukraine: Dr Volodymyr Berest, who serves as the Head of the Department of Molecular and Medical Biophysics at Karazin Kharkiv National University, and Oksana Zinchenko, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Microbiology, Virology, and Biotechnology at Odesa National University.

What is the purpose of your visit?

Volodymyr: I am here to visit my doctoral student Daniil Volobuiev, who is on exchange within the ICM programme for one year at the Madeleine Ramstedt Lab. She is co-supervisor of his study in chemistry and molecular biology. The aim of this work is to isolate and study small, tiny vesicles originating from blood cells or from, for instance, bacterial cells. The vesicles could be used as a drug delivery systems. Loaded with medicines, they can be delivered within the human body – that is the goal.

I have little time to help Daniil much with the experimental part of his work when on the distance, so we are trying to do as much as possible while I am here. It’s very valuable to spend this time together to discuss things face-to-face. Furthermore, I am doing some teaching and participating in discussions about the academic mobility of staff and students, and attending lab visits.

Was it difficult for you to travel here?

Volodymyr: Yes. I was uncertain that we would be allowed to cross the border at Poland, so I left two days early for his trip. Due to the war in Ukraine, all men between 18 and 60 are prohibited by the government to leave the country, except for special reasons such as participating in international collaborations like Erasmus+. The final decision whether you go or not is done by the officer right at the border, and I was able to proceed and continue on to Sweden.

I am excited about the overall atmosphere here. You are welcomed everywhere, and people are so helpful.

What is your general impression of Umeå University and what will you take back home with you?

Volodymyr: I am excited about the overall atmosphere here. You are welcomed everywhere, and people are so helpful. I am amazed by the spaces that you have on campus for students to study during the day. The multicultural representation of students and teachers is also impressive. I think there are lots of things in common between Ukrainians and Swedes, such as being open-minded, hardworking, and positive.

How has this exchange visit been different than your previous ones?

Oksana: This is my fifth time visiting Umeå University on teaching and training exchange. This time, it is a unique opportunity for us to meet together, because in Ukraine, the situation right now is very unstable and very dangerous. I wouldn’t dare to invite anyone to Odesa even if it’s not on the front line. So it was really important to gather here in a calm atmosphere and to exchange our teaching and research experience. It was a great networking meeting with the colleagues from Moldova. With them, we also shared experiences in teaching and found some common elements in our research. So I think this visit will strengthen our network within Ukraine.

I am currently involved in implementing the modernization of Ukrainian education as an expert in the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance and  I think this visit will strengthen our educational network within Ukraine.

It was really important to gather here in a calm atmosphere and to exchange our teaching and research experience.

What has it meant to you to be able to be on this exchange during this very difficult period?

Oksana: This is actually another source for inspiration because when you can take a sip of normal life to see that life is not paused, that it's going on, you can bring this feeling home and you understand that you don't have to stop, that you have to continue. We really feel a lot of support from Sweden and from Umeå University.

What will you take back to your home university?

Oksana: I attended a dissertation defence here in Umeå which was a very valuable experience because in Ukraine, we are currently reforming the system. When I defended my PhD thesis many years ago, it was in front of a commission of 24 people, which was quite tough. Here you have only four or five. I also admire the close relationship between teachers and students here. After we started these exchanges with Umeå University, the situation changed dramatically, especially at our faculty, because we were very actively involved in student exchange. Now, when we have visits, everyone says it’s like the island of liberty.

Successful career paths for students

Since 2016, the Erasmus+ ICM collaboration at Umeå University has included the exchange of over 20 students. Most of these students have developed successful careers in their main subjects after the exchange, with many either defending their PhD theses or embarking on their doctoral journeys, inspired by their Erasmus+ exchange to Umeå.

Furthermore, many students who took part in the Erasmus+ exchange programme in Umeå have embarked on successful career paths within their chosen fields of study. A notable portion of these individuals have gone on to either defend their doctoral theses or initiate their PhD studies, drawing inspiration from their participation in the programme. In fact, a prior Erasmus+ participant has co-authored two publications featured in the esteemed scientific journal, Nature.

List of all Erasmus+ ICM visiting teachers from Ukraine and Moldova

V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Kharkiv, Ukraine

  • Dr Olha Konstantynovska
    Department of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Immunology
  • Dr Oleksandr Zinenko
    The Museum of Nature / School of Biology
  • Dr. Volodymyr Berest, Docent, Head of Department of Molecular and Medical Biophysics, School of Radio Physics, Biomedical Electronics and Computer Systems
  • Volobuieva Olha, Head of Department of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Immunology, Doctor of Medicine, Associate Professor, School of Medicine

    Nicolae Testemițanu State University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Chișinău, Republic of Moldova

  • Corneliu Gorea, University Assistant, Lecturer
    Department of Odontology Periodontology and Oral Pathology
  • Victoria Ababii, University Assistant, Lecturer
    Department of Odontology Periodontology and Oral Pathology

    National Pirogov Memorial Medical University, Vinnytsia, Ukraine

  • Victoria Rodinkova, Doctor Sci. Biol.
    Professor, Department of Pharmacy
  • Alona Voronkina, PhD, Assistant Prof.,
    Docent, Department of Pharmacy

    Odesa Mechnikov National University, School of Biology, Odesa, Ukraine

  • Nataliia Vasylieva, PhD, Senior Researcher, Lecturer,
    Department of Microbiology Virology and Biotechnology
  • Oksana Zinchenko, PhD, Associate Prof. Docent,
    Department of Microbiology Virology and Biotechnology

Special thanks and acknowledgements

Umeå University is dedicated to achieving educational excellence and fostering enduring relationships with our partner institutions. Faculty members and International Offices from these universities actively collaborate to facilitate exchanges and encourage students to fully capitalize on their academic experiences.

This is a team effort that involves several departments of Umeå University and many enthusiastic individuals:


About Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility

Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility (ICM) aims at cooperation between programme countries and countries outside of Europe. It contributes to increasing the quality of higher education and can also lead to greater openness between education programmes in different countries.
Within ICM, departments can apply for scholarships and grants for incoming and outgoing students, teachers and staff. For student mobility, it is possible to apply for funding for both undergraduate and graduate level as well as doctoral education.