2 Russian students at KU worry more about visas, economy than hackers

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Saveliy Belkin, 33, and Aleksandra Nozdrina, 23, are both University of Kansas graduate students from Russia. They both say they are more focused on their studies than politics. They are shown outside KU's Memorial Union on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018.

News of Russian hackers just rolls off the backs of two graduate students studying at the University of Kansas this semester.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Aleksandra Nozdrina, 23, from Ufa, Russia, when the Journal-World asked her thoughts regarding the hacking. She doesn’t believe her country has the resources to hack into U.S. government computers.

“The U.S. says the Russians are hacking them and in Russia, they think the Chinese are hacking them, and in China, they think it’s the North Koreans; it’s just a circle of hacking,” said Saveliy Belkin, 33, from Tyumen, Russia.

Although student enrollment numbers won’t be reported until Sept. 20, Nozdrina and Belkin are two of only a handful of Russian students currently on KU’s Lawrence and Edwards campuses. During the spring semester, 11 Russian nationals were enrolled as both undergraduate and graduate students; in the fall of 2009, that number was double.

For Nozdrina and Belkin, what’s more concerning than hackers is the difficulty in obtaining a visa to come to the U.S. When diplomatic ties between the two countries strained back in 2016, Washington expelled Russian diplomats from the U.S., and Russia did the same. Several embassies in both countries were shuttered. For now, each country maintains only one embassy in each other’s capitals.

Now, U.S. visas can only be obtained in Moscow. For Nozdrina, who lives three hours by plane from the capital, it was difficult to get there for an interview.

She was not experienced with the student visa process. When she arrived for the interview, she could hear the person ahead of her going through the process.

“I heard the officers ask about her hobbies,” Nozdrina said. When it was her turn and they learned she was a researcher who had worked in a nuclear facility, they took a much more serious tone, she said. They said they would have to scrutinize her request further. She had to wait another month and worried she might miss this opportunity to come to KU.

For Belkin, who is researching computational biology, the concern is more for his family members, who want to visit him.

“My papers are in order,” said Belkin, who is beginning his ninth year of study in the U.S., but his parents want to come for another visit. They didn’t have any problem getting the necessary visa two years ago, but this time, they tell their son the wait is four to five months because there are fewer people working in the one U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Nozdrina received her master’s degree from the National Research Nuclear University in Moscow and is working on experiments on cosmic rays and particle physics at KU. She arrived in July and hopes to be working on various experiments for four or five years and earn a doctorate.

For Nozdrina, another concern is the falling Russian ruble.

“It is not stable, and I worry about the Russian economy,” she said.

Both students are being paid as research assistants, earning double the money they would in Russia. However, the cost of food and local produce is more expensive in Lawrence.

“But the cost of electronics is 20 or 30 percent higher in Russia,” Belkin said.

For both students, the recent Kansas primary was fascinating to observe.

“I like that in the U.S., people can vote and they can win,” Nozdrina said. “In Russia, it is just (Vladimir) Putin. There is no sense to vote. Here, elections are fun.”

Belkin agreed that it was fun seeing people involved in the election process having booths at the local farmers market.

“I think it’s very good,” Nozdrina said. “People can change elections.”

As for Donald Trump and Putin, Belkin said, “they both want to be president of the greatest country.”

Belkin and Nozdrina were strangers until they met at KU’s Memorial Union to talk to the Journal-World.

Since she just arrived two months ago, Nozdrina hasn’t made many friends. The two have a different definition of friendship.

“What about the people you work with?” Belkin asked Nozdrina. “Aren’t they friends?”

“They are acquaintances,” she said.

“You are right,” he said. “In Russia, a friend is someone you would die for.”


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