Ukrainian grad student finds refuge at U of A

Masters’ student Artem Mamadzhanov convocates this fall thanks to Disrupted Ukrainian Scholars and Students initiative

Caitlin Crawshaw - 15 November 2023

Artem Mamadzhanov was an undergraduate student living in Kyiv when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Within a few days, Ukraine’s capital and adjacent cities were under siege, and Mamadzhanov joined the throngs of people fleeing to safety.

“I fled to my hometown where my parents still live, two hours away from the city,” he says. Not long after, he learned that a bomb had landed next to his old apartment, killing a family of five. It was both frightening and surreal: “You know the ‘work-life’ balance people talk about? We switched to ‘war-life’ balance.”

As a young man, Mamadzhanov knew it was a matter of time before he was recruited into the Ukrainian army. Thankfully, he’d been able to finish his business degree, so he scrambled to apply for graduate school overseas, which would allow him to leave the country legally. 

“One thing that was kind of positive about the war was that a lot of international universities opened up scholarships for Ukrainian students,” he says. 

Mamadzhanov applied to schools in the Czech Republic, the United States and Canada, and chose to attend the U of A via the Disrupted Ukrainian Students and Scholars (DUSS Alberta) program, a program created by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS)  and its partners: the Kule Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS), Kule Folklore Centre, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, Department of History, Classics, and Religion and the Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies.

Once he was accepted, Mamadzhanov began the perilous journey out of Ukraine to a refugee camp in the Netherlands where a friend (a fellow Ukrainian refugee) had secured him a place to stay. There, he began the Master of Arts in Community Engagement (MACE) program in the School of Public Health online while he waited for his Canadian VISA to come through. When the paperwork arrived a month later, Mamadzhanov immediately booked his flights, knowing that he could stay in the spare room of his professor’s home if he couldn’t find accommodations right away.

On a sunny day in September, Mamadzhanov arrived in Edmonton eager to start classes in person. In a short period of time, he felt part of the campus community, making it easier to navigate the culture shock, worry about loved ones and challenges of earning a graduate degree in English.

Mamadzhanov, who completed his MACE degree in just a year, says his time on campus has greatly broadened his worldviews. Meeting other DUSS Alberta students and international students from other places in the world has expanded his understanding of world affairs, as have courses on foreign policy, Canadian politics, community-based participatory research and climate change. Additionally, Mamadzhanov spent eight months working virtually as a research assistant on a Thompson Rivers University project for recovery of intergenerational knowledge transfer and traditions in Uganda after a civil war.

Now that he’s completed his coursework, Mamadzhanov hopes to launch his career in Edmonton as Ukraine remains unsafe with little in the way of career opportunities. He’s now searching for a job that will allow him to make a difference in the lives of others, perhaps with an NGO or non-profit.  

In the meantime, Mamadzhanov is looking forward to celebrating the end of his academic journey at Fall Convocation. He missed out on his undergraduate convocation because of the war and didn’t receive his diploma — a requirement for starting graduate school — until he’d reached Poland en route to the Netherlands. The diploma, which had been initially picked up from the university by a friend, had passed through many hands before reaching a friend-of-a-friend in Krakow.

This time, Mamadzhanov will cross the stage to receive his diploma in person and celebrate his achievement with classmates and friends. “It’s been a great journey,” he says.