Tuesday, March 28, 2023
HomeIndiaBunkers, air raid apps — with 'no option left', some Indian students...

Bunkers, air raid apps — with ‘no option left’, some Indian students are returning to Ukraine

Last month, Modi govt told Supreme Court Indian medical students who returned from Ukraine can't be accommodated in universities back home. As many as 20,000 students returned amid war.

Text Size:

New Delhi: “Come at your own risk”, “be prepared for air raid sirens twice a day”, “expect food prices to be inflated” these are some of the messages Indian medical students returning to war-torn Ukraine are getting from their classmates and professors.

As many as 20,000 students had made their way back to India from Ukraine in the weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on that country in February.

Now, some are already back in the war-torn country while many others are gearing up for the long journey through Ukraine’s neighbours, such as Moldova, Hungary or Poland, and then an 8 to 24-hour bus or train journey to their destination city.

Maharashtra-based Nabeel Syed, 22, who is enrolled at Bogomolets National Medical University in Ukrainian capital Kyiv, is one such student who decided to return to his classes after seven long months.

He flew to Budapest and then undertook a day-long train journey to Ukraine. In a vlog, he explained that the university has started functioning in hybrid mode and life there is slowly crawling back to normal. He also showed videos of the destruction in Kyiv.

“About 10-15 students from India returned last week to Kyiv. Although my parents were against my decision, I had no option but to come back,” Nabeel told ThePrint.

His parents call 8-9 times a day to check on him, and every time the air raid siren goes off, a feeling of dread takes over.

Many other students like Nabeel have been beset with doubts about how they will continue their medical studies in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war. On the one hand, they are bracing for the difficulties of going back to a warzone, on the other, they are struggling to get accommodated in Indian universities.

While in India, these students undertook online classes held by their universities back in Ukraine. However, degrees earned this way are not eligible under the National Medical Commission (NMC) the Indian regulatory body that regulates medical education and medical professionals as students are mandatorily required to finish 12 months of practical internship as well.

In July, many of the students resorted to protests as the NMC was not making its stand clear on whether or not they would be accommodated in Indian medical colleges.

The NMC and the central government have not been too helpful, the students allege, pointing to “vague NMC guidelines” on transfer of students studying abroad. “They clearly cannot accommodate us in Indian universities,” Nabeel said.

ThePrint reached the Ministry of External Affairs over email with queries on the status of Indian students enrolled in Ukraine, but is yet to receive a response. This report will be updated when a response is received.

Also read: ‘Entire villages are leaving’ — Ukrainians flee under military watch from Russian annexation

NMC’s stand

In August, after agitations by the students, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs directed the Union government to resolve the crisis concerning Indian students who had returned from China (because of the Covid lockdown) and Ukraine.

The NMC subsequently put out a circular with guidelines for these students, but also said it “doesn’t approve of mobility programmes” (such as the one offered by Ukraine). It means that if some Ukrainian universities consider moving their operations to a neighbouring country, like Poland or Latvia, or pursue tie-ups with other universities outside of Ukraine for a limited period of time, the Indian regulatory body will not recognise the degree earned by students attending classes in the new location.

The NMC also said that students would not be accommodated in Indian medical colleges under any circumstances. After the matter was taken to court, the same view was put forth by the Centre to the Supreme Court in September.

The same month, however, the NMC approved the mobility programme, and circulated a list of 29 nations where Indian medical students, presently enrolled in Ukraine, can apply for academic mobility.

The 29 countries include Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Moldova. However, the NMC has only released the list of eligible universities in Georgia so far.

Once the Indian medical students temporarily accommodated in other countries finish their studies, they will be eligible to sit for the Foreign Medical Graduate Exam (FMGE), a test aspirants with degrees from certain countries need to clear for practise in India.

‘Living in anxiety’

Many of the students in crisis are final year medical scholars. Those the ThePrint spoke to claim that “after the Indian government refused help, they were not left with many options to complete their final year of education”. While some want to stay back in Europe and pursue their specialisation, others wish to come back to practise in India.

Those returning to the warzone are full of anxiety and trepidation. Mohit Kumar, who is pursuing his final year studies at Ternopil National Medical University in west Ukraine, said his grandmother fell ill after she heard of his decision to go back to Ukraine.

Speaking to ThePrint from Ukraine, he said: “I had to lie to her before leaving. I told her I am going to Poland to finish my education. My family worries for me but things are relatively safer in west Ukraine.”

Kumar, like other students, will need to attend offline classes and complete his practicals in order to be eligible for the FMGE.

For Shashwat Shukla, a third year student at the same university, even drawing up a contingency plan proved difficult. He said he wrote to the Indian embassy seeking advice on what to do in case of an attack on Ternopil, but is yet to hear back.

“There are underground bunkers in every building. We have also downloaded an app that alerts us every time there is an air raid. We are living in anxiety,” he said.

According to the 22-year-old, transferring to a Russia university is an option, but many students are wary of doing so. “On completion of our degree, our Ukrainian parent university will have to give us a character certificate. We are not sure if the Ukrainian government will want to give this certificate to students who have studied in Russia,” he pointed out.

Wary of mobility programme

While the transfer programme has been approved by the NMC, students are not keen on taking it up since the medical authority had earlier frowned upon it.

A 21-year-old student from Delhi now enrolled at Hungary’s University of Debrecen said he applied for a transfer from Ukraine as soon as he got to know of the mobility option. “Not many students were aware of it and among those who knew, few wanted to apply,” he told ThePrint.

The first year medical student also pointed out that “it was unfair to expect Indian students to be absorbed in Indian medical institutes since the international medical programme is of six years, while the Indian MBBS involves five years of studies”.

According to Hope Consultants’ Dipendra Chaubey, a lot of Indian students have already started seeking transfers to Russia and Kyrgyzstan in a bid to finish their education.

He added that “about 100 students have already shifted to Russian universities”.

According to estimates by the students themselves, around 1,000 to 1,200 scholars have taken a transfer to Hungary to finish their medical studies as part of the mobility programme.

However, many students are from the middle class, and transferring to countries like the US or Poland is not an option since the cost of education there is higher.

“I can understand that 20,000 students (returning to India) is a big number and accommodating them is a challenge. However, the government didn’t do much to help them. These students could have easily been sent to Egypt, as the colleges have the bandwidth to take them in,” said Chaubey.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Ukraine celebrates victory in Lyman, ally of Putin mulls over ‘low-grade’ nuclear response

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Most Popular