Lviv, Ukraine February 2019
Remember your years as a student? The best years of your life they say. A little spartan here and there but overall one big adventure. Here’s the story of Tatjana, she studies at the Polytechnical University in Lviv. You may find it shocking. I did.
Corruption is a returning topic. Any imaginable way is used to illegally obtain money from the students, who have no choice but just go along with it. The professors have a lucrative side income especially in IT, where they know the students can work a little on the side so more money can be squeezed out of them. This subject was covered in another story on Insights, see the story about Bogdan Pashtuk. Her university dormitory returns again and again in our conversations and finally, she agrees to me to visit her quarters, Come with me and see this hell on earth yourself.
A visit is not without complications, as a rule, actually forbidden. By exception, parents can enter the massive concrete building which is guarded by an elderly woman very aptly described as “Kommandant”. The behavior is accordingly. Tatjana’s ID is left at the kommandants office as a guarantee I will leave. I am supposed to be a distant uncle in this case and it works.
U boat feeling
The elevator to the 12th floor only works for transport upward. It is not possible to take it downward, this journey has to be made on foot over the dangerously worn-out staircases. Thousands of students are housed in this concrete block.
In the tiny room, there are 4 bunk beds, two rooms share one toilet. It is the usual disorganized mess where four girls live on a very small surface area.
A feeling of claustrophobia descends upon me. It feels like being in a U boat, both in the confined space and in the feeling of being trapped when it sinks (or gets on fire). The idea to be here a large part of the day together with three other people would be total horror to me. Let alone the impossibility to be able to study in this confined space.
A stunning view
I see no fire safety equipment or sprinklers. There are only two staircases down on either side of the block one but I have the impression that things could go wrong terribly here if a fire would break out. Though the view is stunning it makes me realize I will be trapped here should something occur.
The other three roommates are away for the weekend leaving Tatjana some peace and space. Housing is formally very cheap here. Only 50 hryvna for a bed per month, so practically free. One may argue that one cannot expect much for this sum. However, the whole operation is funded with public money and part of a more complex education finance system.
Foreign students are (again unofficially) charged more and have to pay extra to the kommandant. Their rooms are supposed to be a bit better, I did not see them.
There are in total 3 washing machines available for over 1000 students. It means getting up at 5.30 to get your stuff into an available machine. It is already an improvement as some years ago there were none. The cost of one wash is the same as the cost of housing for a month: 50 hryvna. The kitchen is an empty open space with nothing but two stoves and a rickety table. I see no smoke detection (a small expense, they cost around 10 euro).
The cockroaches are sleeping today
Or they are just too shy to show. Normally one is housed under a base of a water cooker but today seems holiday. In summer the room can be up to 35 degrees or more and the cockroaches migrate to cooler rooms. They leave their trades on the wall where a bizarre pattern is visible. The main cause of their presence it the litter dump transporting the refuse from the floors to the basement. It is often blocked and in those cases, the garbage is just piling up in the space in front. The smell is accordingly. The alternative is to carry it yourself 24 staircases down.
Quis custodies custodes?
Order in the building is maintained by a sort of student police. Generally, this authority is granted by the University to a sports federation (basketball) of some kind. Their rule with absolute power and work like an institutionalized mafia. Actually their presence is for Tatjana the most depressing due to the permanent feeling of insecurity. You cannot see them but they are always potentially there and can show up unexpectedly any moment.
They are allowed to inspect the rooms (also girls’ rooms) without an appointment and when a complaint is filed this will be investigated. The resulting power is clearly abused. False complaints are handed in and the boys can be bribed and ask openly for bribes. Actually with the finding of a transgression the (alleged) culprit is also presented with a shopping list of most groceries, alcohol, and drugs to be delivered at the guardian’s rooms. Who controls them? They do anything they like including using drugs and alcohol openly. On the cost of those, they are supposed to keep in line.
Side job available
When leaving Tatjana points out the graffiti on the building opposite of the dormitory. This is an advertisement for drug dealers. Wholesale or retail it is written. Also, the kind of drug available is made clear, in this case, XTC. The dealers do not put up the signs themselves, it is a lucrative side job for the students who get 50 hryvna for each post. Though the presence of this reklama is in the whole city the position directly in front of the entrance of the dormitories is very well chosen.
Later that week I have a chance to visit UKU, the privately funded Catholic University. The contrast with Tatjana’s Polytechnic could not be bigger. CC video monitors all lectures were given and corruption is unheard of and actively prevented. The quality of tutoring is regularly evaluated and measures are taken accordingly. UKU also has dormitories for first-year students alone. They are heaven in comparison to Tatjana’s place. Each floor is supervised by an in the house living lecturer, often with his family who’s attitude is of a father to the residents. They charge tuition but I wonder what is cheaper: tuition or a continuous stream of bribes as well as bad and uninspired teaching.
Thanks for the visit Tatjana, I hope you will be able to finish your studies very quickly. Or move to UKU.