It is unclear exactly how many Ecuadorians are living in Ukraine. On Wednesday, the government gave an estimate of 700 but increased it to 1,500 Thursday. “Our citizens are there for many reasons, including being married to Ukrainian nationals, and it is impossible to come up with accurate figures,” says Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguín.
A large number of young Ecuadorians, possibly as many as 500, are in Ukraine to attend university, say Holguín. “The country is known for its fine universities and entry fees and tuition are low for foreigners,” he says. “Another attraction is that some of the universities offer classes in English, which is the second language for many of the students.”
A woman from Cuenca who has been in contact with her family since the beginning of the Russian invasion last week, says she and other Ecuadorian students are safe, spending most of their time in the basement of a dormitory in Kiev. “As we understand it, most of the military activity is outside of town but we have heard a few explosions nearby,” she said. “We are scared and hope the situation improves soon. We want to get back to normal and back to our studies.”
In an interview with a Cuenca radio station, the student, who asked to remain anonymous, said she came to Kiev because of the reputation of the hydro-aeromechanics program at the National Technical University of Ukraine. “This has been my interest since high school and my family is able to afford the $2,000 tuition,” she said. “The university has offered me jobs to pay for my living expenses so this has been a very good experience – until this week.”
She added that Ecuadorians have been coming to study in Kiev for years. “There is a tradition of Ecuadorian studying here because of the costs, the English language programs and because they are very welcoming,” she said.
Holguín says there is small Ecuadorian community in Kiev beyond the university students. “This may because of the students who study there and then decide to stay,” he said. “Despite our smaller population, there are many more Ecuadorians in Ukraine than Peruvians and Colombians. As I understand it, there are about 150 Colombians and 300 Peruvians there, most of them in Kiev.”
In addition to technical studies, Ecuadorians are also enrolled in medical, dentistry and business management programs in Ukraine, the Cuenca student says. “We are taught in English, which most of us learned in high school, which makes our work easier. We also get to meet people from all over the world, Europe, the U.S. and Canada and other places, which makes the experience great.”
She says she has no plans to leave Kiev unless the situation becomes more dangerous. “I feel safe right now but the worst thing is not knowing what is happening outside and when it will end. We are all praying for peace.”