A St Andrews student has been forced to change her year abroad plans after two terrorist attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd.
Julia Blaski is spending the academic year in Russia as part of her language degree. After completing her first semester in St Petersburg, she was scheduled to finish the year in the southern city formerly known as Stalingrad.
Ms Blaski, who comes from the United States, found out about the attacks on social media: “I woke up very early in the morning, checked my phone and discovered a Facebook message from a friend who sent me a link about the bombing.”
34 people were killed in two suicide bombings on consecutive days at the end of last month. Russian authorities suspect Islamist insurgents in the North Caucuses of carrying out the attacks.
Ms Blaski says that she never considered Volgograd a particularly dangerous place to study, suggesting that “terrorism can happen anywhere – New York, Moscow, London – yet we still visit these places all the time”.
She admits that the media attention was unsettling: “The relatively quiet, small Soviet city where I was supposed to study was now all over the world news because of terrorist bombings.”
Next month Russia will be hosting the Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The games are taking place near the troubled regions of Chechnya and Dagestan. Many observers fear the Volgograd attacks have exposed gaps in Russian security.
Ms Blaski said it would be difficult to avoid potential targets: “I was most alarmed by the fact they occurred on public transport, which I would absolutely have to use when I lived there – trolleybuses everyday and the train station for any trip outside the city.
“I spoke with my friend who would also study there. Our concerns about safety were heightened and there was a feeling of uncertainty. Who knew when there would be another attack?”
The decision to move the students was taken by Russian Language Undergraduate Studies (RLUS), a UK-based provider of Russian study abroad programmes. RLUS wrote on Monday to all students who had been scheduled to study in Volgograd, informing them it was withdrawing the programme in the city.
A University of St Andrews spokesperson explained: “This decision was made by RLUS following the recent terrorist attack in Volgograd, and after consultation with contacts at Russian departments in participating universities, including St Andrews.
“We work very closely with RLUS, but ultimately the decision to cancel was made by them after careful review. While it is regrettable, we support the decision as the safety and welfare of students participating in Study Abroad is our primary concern.”
Ms Blaski will now complete her year in Moscow, along with other students RLUS had placed in Volgograd. The Russian capital is over 900 kilometres from the site of recent attacks.
She does not expect any problems in the Russian capital: “As with any other study abroad location, we were told to be careful before going to Russia; not to get ourselves into situations that would endanger our safety. I felt quite safe in St Petersburg and believe I will feel the same way in Moscow.
“You can’t control terrorist attacks. I think it is best to worry about your personal safety, which is something actually in your control.”
In July the University of St Andrews withdrew its Study Abroad programme to Beirut, Lebanon, citing the country’s instability and the risk to students.