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Student Volunteers Help Frontline Medics, Bring Food to Seniors, Read Books to Kids

April 30, 2020

A volunteer campaign to provide medical, social, psychological and technological support to those in need during the coronavirus pandemic is gathering pace in Russia. With a network of offices spanning the country, this movement, called Mi Vmeste (“We Are Together”), numbers approximately 100,000 activists, according to the latest data from its website. Both individuals and organizations are welcome to join. Russian universities, including Project 5-100 institutions, have shown strong commitment to the cause, encouraging students to take up volunteer work in their areas of expertise.

Unsurprisingly, medical students are playing a key role. Those from Sechenov University have been directly involved in the fight against Covid-19, driven, as they explain, by a desire both to help frontline health workers and to learn at first hand how infectious disease clinics are run.

Their counterparts from Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) have completed medical volunteer training at a regional facility and are working in the university's medical and rehabilitation centers as well as in adult and pediatric hospitals in the city of Vladivostok. FEFU's Vice Rector for Medical Affairs Oleg Pak is convinced that these students, who are combining volunteer work and distance learning, will make good practitioners.

Elsewhere, volunteers are delivering groceries, medications and other essential items to self-isolating senior and reduced-mobility citizens. Students from the University of Tyumen who have enrolled with the regional Mi Vmeste unit report that each volunteer brigade may be filling more than 100 requests a day. Universities are also taking care of their active and former staff who are under stay-at-home orders due to advanced age. For this purpose, Novosibirsk State University (NSU) is collaborating with the NSU Union, its alumni association, and Mi Vmeste, while Kazan Federal University (KFU) has over 20 students delivering groceries to its elderly faculty and staff members. All volunteers have been briefed on safety precautions and issued with PPE.

University campuses are relying on volunteers to help other students self-isolate. At National Research Nuclear University MEPhI. 30 activists process online requests for groceries and medications from fellow students living in halls of residence, put together packages and take them round to individual dormitories.

With education moving online, there has been a spike in demand for digital volunteers to assist schools and universities in transitioning to distance learning. FEFU's response has been to set up an IT volunteer unit manned by about 70 students. At Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU), activists have been instructing administrative and teaching staff at dozens of schools across the region in the use of online platforms, media and messengers, microphones and other equipment. Students at St Petersburg Electrotechnical University (ETU) “LETI” will be helping schoolchildren with learning difficulties as part of the regional Volunteers of Enlightenment campaign.

Nor have preschoolers and their parents been forgotten. RUDN University students and more than 50 would-be journalists and communications specialists from South Ural State University (SUSU) are participating in the federal 'dial-a-story' charity project dubbed Iz Doma v Skazku (“Out of Home and into Fairyland”). Kids can listen over the telephone to volunteers reading fairy tales from the vast collections of the National Digital Children's Library and the Children's Radio. Ludmila Shesterkina, who heads the Department of Journalism, Advertising and Public Relations, Doctor of Sciences (Philology) at SUSU's Institute of Media, Social Sciences and Humanities, points out the benefit to parents of getting another useful leisure activity to occupy their children's time, which makes the project 'socially significant'.

While serving those in need, volunteers are also doing a service to themselves, as, according to Valery Falkov, Russia's Minister for Science and Higher Education, volunteering is a great career-orientation experience for students that to a large extent shapes their career paths