Russian student finds herself cut off from her home

Music Industry Arts student Elizavita Sidorovich received an outpouring of help from her peers and college faculty. Photo credit: Nathan Drescher

When Elizavita Sidorovich first heard that Russia had invaded Ukraine, the music industry arts student was not surprised. “I just knew something was going to happen,” she said. “They’ve been doing this since 2014.”

What 20-year-old Sidorovich didn’t realize, however, was how much the war in Ukraine would affect him personally.

Sidorovich is an international student from Russia studying at Algonquin College. Sanctions from the Canadian and Russian governments have left international students like her struggling to buy groceries here in Canada.

Before coming to college in August 2021, Sidorovich spent her childhood learning American song lyrics and dreamed of being a musician. She knew she wanted to leave Russia as soon as she finished high school. She wanted to live somewhere less stuffy. Exit.

Then she found the college in a brochure at her home in Moscow.

“It was the first school listed on the front page,” she said. “Music Industry Arts,” he says. It felt like it was made for me. »

Sidorovich’s fall tenure on the program was successful. She was a straight student and quickly made many friends. She called it a life-changing experience.

“The first time I smiled in public was here in Canada,” she said. “People in Russia think there’s something wrong with you if you smile in public.”

But then Putin invaded Russia on February 24, 2022, and the world reacted. As crippling sanctions against Russia took effect, Sidorovich found herself cut off from her parents at home. They couldn’t send him money. She couldn’t buy food or pay her student residence fees.

“I hate Putin. I hate what he does,” Sidorovich said, frowning in disgust. “I don’t know anyone at home who loves him. He stole Russia for 20 years. Now he sends 18-year-olds to another country. Why?”

But what young Russians have to say about the war has changed nothing for the world, for Ukrainians or for Russian students like Sidorovich.

The Parliament of Canada passed the Special Economic Measures Act as part of an unprecedented coordinated wave of sanctions against Russia. The sanctions target a range of individuals in Russia, primarily the infamous oligarchs and people in positions of power.

But it also attacks the financial and energy sectors. Russian banks have been excluded from the global SWIFT network, which enables fast, borderless money transfers. People like Sidorovich are suddenly cut off from their homes.

Algonquin College is working to keep up with the rapidly changing situation.

“We contacted these students by email to inform them of the various supports available,” said Ernest Mulvey, director of the college’s Center for International Education.

Normally, the IEC organizes study permits, helps international students with health insurance and settles them when they arrive in Canada. “Right now we are dealing with exceptional circumstances,” he said.

The IEC is doing what it can to support students at this time. They added a full-time staff member to an office devoted to counseling students affected by this war.

“Let’s be clear: the college recognizes that Russia unlawfully attacked and invaded Ukraine,” Mulvey said. “This war is affecting three cohorts of international college students. First and foremost, Ukrainian students. But also Russian and Belarusian students.

In the email sent to those students, Mulvey recommended college counseling services and an emergency scholarship for students.

“It can’t be used for tuition, but recipients can use it for things like groceries and rent,” he said of the scholarship.

However, when Sidorovich tried to access the emergency scholarship, he was told there was not much the college could do beyond offering a food card.

“With the sanctions on Russia, our support will be extremely limited beyond this food card,” Krisha Marshall, the assistant financial aid clerk, said in an email to Sidorovich. “You will need embassy support and/or you may need to consider returning home if the situation does not improve.”

Krisha Marshall was unable to comment on the Algonquin times specifically on Sidorovich’s case for privacy reasons, but said there are plenty of supporters in place.

“Student Financial Aid and Grants offer many supports for students in emergency situations, all students and situations are assessed individually, with specific criteria to assess need,” she said. “Potential support for students ranges from food, housing, emergency supplies and return travel.”

Marshall also said financial aid has been approached by some students regarding support.

“We had a total of three students referred and, in line with usual practice, we requested information regarding their urgent need. To date, no students have been denied an emergency scholarship and their applications are open and awaiting processing once information is received.

Marshall also has some tips for students who need to access emergency help through financial aid.

“Students must provide basic financial information and other information regarding their emergency needs,” she said. “In addition, we have budget support tools on our website and students work with a grants and scholarships officer to ensure all support options are considered.”

Curriculum-wise, Sidorovich received an outpouring of help from his peers and college faculty.

“Ellie is a straight student and a wonderful person,” said Colin Mills, coordinator of the Music Industry Arts program at Algonquin College and one of her professors. “The ministry is doing what it can for her. Her classmates threw her a surprise birthday party and everyone brought gift cards.

Mills’ main concern is to see his students succeed in the MIA program. “My goal is to see Ellie graduate from the program,” he said. The program lasts 12 months and ends in August. “We just have to take it all the way.”

Some of Sidorovich’s peers said they would buy her food or let her sleep on their couches. “They gave me $350 worth of grocery cards for my birthday,” she said. “Colin gave me a birthday cake. My tuition is paid for, at least. If the worst comes to the worst, I can live with my best friend.

But no matter what, Sidorovich says she will not return to Russia.

“I never want to go back there again,” she said. Her study permit lasts until 2023, and under Canadian immigration laws, she can convert it to a work permit after graduating from a Canadian college or university. After one year, she can apply for permanent resident status.

All of this means that she just has to spend these last four months in college. “It’s expensive to live in res,” Sidorovich explained. “I need $5,500 more for the last three months. It has to be paid on April 14, but my parents can’t send me the money.

Sometimes there are days or even hours when money transfers are suddenly made. “We watch it all the time. If the opportunity arises, my father will send me all of a sudden.

She doesn’t want to live on someone’s couch. “But if that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I will do,” she said.

Sidorovich remains pragmatic and optimistic. She even thinks about her post-university projects. “I really love Kitchener,” she said. “I could move there.”