“We have lost count of how many bombs and sirens we hear every day… But we still can't go back to India. Our future is not secure in India either. When we returned home in February, there was a lot of hope. But now, we are left with none. We have to finish our course here because there is no other option,” said Sheikh Abrar, a 23-year-old Indian medical student, over the phone from Sumy State University in war-torn Ukraine.
Amid escalating hostilities, the Indian Embassy in Ukraine's Kiev asked Indian citizens to return to the country on 19 October. On 25 October, the Indian Embassy in Ukraine reiterated that “In continuation of the advisory issued on 19 October 2022, all Indian citizens in Ukraine are advised to immediately leave Ukraine by available means. Some Indian nationals have already left Ukraine pursuant to earlier advisory.”
Ever since the Russia-Ukraine war broke out in February this year, the lives and futures of 18,000-odd Indian students have been hanging by a thread. Many fled on short notice. In the last two months, however, several went back to Ukraine to finish their studies. Some are still in India, waiting for the right time to return.
Two days ago, a fresh advisory brought back the anxieties of these students and their parents. Many medical students told The Quint that returning to India is not an option as they have crucial practicals to finish in person -- without which their degree is incomplete.
Why Did Indian Students Flee Ukraine Early 2022?
When the war broke out, The Quint reported that Indian students who were stuck in Ukraine, were asked by their hostel authorities to hide in bunkers. Students had run out of food and money at the time and their parents back home were worried as it was difficult to even reach them. Many students recorded videos of themselves in their hostels and bunkers, describing their ordeal and crying for help.
Even though the evacuation process was taking place on the borders of Hungary and Poland, students found it difficult to reach these borders. Students from Sumy struggled to get to the borders because the closest border was 60 km away and it was snowing at the time. Many students walked over 50 km in the biting cold to reach the closest border.
The same students said that they had taken admission in Ukrainian Universities for a better future as the seats in Indian government medical colleges are limited and private colleges are unaffordable.
'Tracking News Related to Ukraine, It's Frightening': Student's Parent
When these students returned to India, they were met with uncertainty over whether they would be able to complete their course. They wondered if their degrees would be valid with online classes.
Abrar has his practical classes going on. "I have to be physically present for the classes so that my course is recognised by the National Medical Council (NMC)," he told The Quint on Thursday.
His father, Sajad Abrar, who lives in Kashmir, told The Quint about his many anxieties and fears, and how frightening news is. “It pains us every day. We are extremely worried. I want him to return but my son says he needs to be in Ukraine because there are no options for him here. We keep watching the news and it is frightening. We speak to him every day. What else can we do?" he asked.
He said that moving his son to another country at this juncture is something he can't afford. Abrar is in fifth year at the university in Ukraine.
Uncertainty Over NMC Regulations in India
Shivam Chawariya, who is in his second year at Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University in Ukraine's Ivano, is still in India. He told The Quint, “We do not have an option. We need to go back, else our degrees will not be considered valid when we appear for the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE). I had planned to head back to Ukraine early next year. I was waiting for an advisory by the government.”
In July, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that the NMC would not be permitted to transfer or accommodate foreign medical students in Indian colleges. This means that foreign medical students must complete the entire duration of their course including training and internship from the same college in order to be recognised by the NMC in India. The students could attend online classes of theory subjects as long as they are supplemented by offline practicals and clinical training.
In September, the NMC approved the academic mobility programme for those enrolled in universities in Ukraine. This, however, would not be viable for all as it would be an expensive affair.
So, students of all batches are uncertain – those in the first three years are unsure of whether they should be in Ukraine or India and those in their fourth and fifth years are apprehensive because they have practical classes and internships which need to be completed in Ukraine itself.
Chawariya said, “Our classes are online but it is not the same as being there physically. During our anatomy classes, we are shown bones on a screen... We have to go back eventually, or some arrangements need to be made. Refunds are not possible and transfers are very expensive.”
We thought we will get internships in the country but that did not work out. So, I returned to Ukraine on 12 September. The situation has been hostile, our power supply and water supply are cut often. But we manage to study. We are used to it now. We are not as scared of the war, we are scared of the Indian education system. Back in India, students are depressed because they cannot get jobs.Sheikh Abrar, a fifth-year student of Sumy State University
'Wouldn't Have Returned if Adequate Arrangements Made For Us in India': Students
Shahnawaz Ansari, a fifth-year student from Uttar Pradesh’s Raebareli, enrolled in Odessa National Medical University in Ukraine, returned to the university on 11 October. He told The Quint, “I did not have an option, so I returned. Even though, this city is not in the war zone but we keep hearing sirens every hour or so. It is scary but going back to India is not an option either.”
Even though Odessa is relatively safer, it gets scary sometimes. The air defense system gets activated if there is a drone, a missile, or a bomb. Hence, the sirens go off every few hours.Shahnawaz Ansari, a fifth-year student of Odessa National Medical University
Meanwhile, a 23-year-old student in her fifth year at Sumy State University, who did not wish to be identified, told The Quint, “We just have two months of our course left, and if there were arrangements made for us in India, we would not have to go back. Since we are in the batch that started slightly later, we are not eligible to do our internships in India.”
The 23-year-old is in her hometown in Srinagar and plans to head back in the coming months. The sixth-year for these students is when they have to do their internship. Arrangements were made for some fifth-year students to do their internships in India but only if they had graduated by a certain date. Not all fifth-year students were eligible for it.
Her mother said, “We have been very worried – nothing has been working out for the students. We had taken a loan to pay for our daughter’s college tuition fee. Now, we cannot afford a transfer as that would cost another Rs three-four lakh.”
Her husband is a government employee and she is a homemaker. The student's mother added, “We hope that arrangements are made for the students to complete their courses here. We will not object to the additional fee here.”