Published: 21st October 2022
If the plane is sent for evacuation, I am not boarding it: Indian students back in Ukraine to stay put despite advisory to evacuate
Indian students who were forced to go back to Ukraine refuse to return although the Indian Embassy in Ukraine released an advisory to evacuate
The Indian embassy in Ukraine issued an advisory on Wednesday, October 19, following the recent bombings by Russia. Citing the “deteriorating security situations and the escalation of hostilities across Ukraine”, the statement warned against travelling to Ukraine and urged the Indians in Ukraine, including students, to evacuate immediately. However, students who returned to the war-ravaged country refuse to return back to India.
“Why go back to the mess we left behind? We will receive no assistance in India. I shall stay back and ask my family to keep away from news reports for a while,” says Ravi Kumar, a fifth-year student at Vinnytsia National Pirogov Medical University. Another third-year student from Ternopil National Medical University, Vaishnavi Gowardhan Wankhede, says, “If there is another evacuation and if the plane is sent for evacuation, I am not boarding that flight.”
A new normal?
As per many reports, the war in Ukraine intensified on October 10 after Russian missiles hit several Ukrainian cities including Kyiv; killing at least 14 individuals and injuring several others. These assaults were in retaliation to the attack on the Crimea bridge and the country lost the little normalcy it was witnessing. Although a few of the Indian students who returned to Ukraine are concerned about their safety, most of them nonchalantly echoed a single view, “Sirens and bunkers are our new normal, they don't bother us anymore. We need to save our careers.”
Returning to war-torn Ukraine, quitting MBBS or appearing for NEET again?
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 20,000 Indian students from Ukraine fled the country amid the raging war. Most of them are medical students who couldn’t afford the fees of private medical colleges in India and hoped for remedies from the government in whatever way possible. “We were welcomed with promises but none were kept. We have been forced into a do-or-die situation and now we have no option,” adds a disappointed Ravi.
The students from Ukraine have staged protests for a prolonged period, since their return. Around three thousand students have already returned to Ukraine, mostly fifth and sixth-year students. Others are either quitting medicine, appearing for NEET again, joining other medical-related courses or still waiting in despair for the Indian government to act. Few also took transfers to institutes in other countries after required approvals. “My son will join the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) course this year. The counselling process is on. I cannot send him back to die,” says RB Gupta, President of the Parents' Association of Ukraine Medical Students (PAUMS) and the father of a Ukraine-returned Indian student whose dream of an MBBS was shattered by the war.
Those who were planning to return in November are now in a dilemma. A few of them are cancelling their tickets and others aren’t sure what to do. Aman Sharma, a fifth-year medical student from Vinnytsia National Pirogov Medical University, who was preparing to return to Ukraine in November says, “My parents wouldn’t allow it anymore. They are sceptical and scared of the consequences that will follow.”
Transfers might not be the solution
Students who returned to Ukraine are mostly final-year students, belonging to the fifth or sixth year of their course. However, Vaishnavi is one of those exceptions from the third year. When asked why she did not take a transfer instead, she cited inconsistencies in NMC’s guidelines as the reason. “NMC keeps changing their guidelines. Students who wish to settle here in Europe can take that risk but I want to go back to India. Suppose NMC later decides that the degrees of transfer students are invalid?” she says, adding, “It was frowned upon once, hence, chances are high it might not be accepted later. Here we will try and see if we get permission for mobility from our university, then we'll avail it.”
Vaishnavi happens to be one of those students who did not find a base in the protests right from the beginning. She states that she always knew there would be no concrete solution or extraordinary change in the education system just for them. “It is unrealistic to expect that,” she remarks, “Just wish they’d have approved mobility earlier because, by the time that was approved, our deadlines had already expired.” She insists that a fight only for mobility, online class or transfer assistance would have fared the students better.
Vaishnavi also shared with EdexLive that when she approached a Russian University for transfer earlier this year, they recommended she start from the first year again. After investing all that much time, energy and money, she states she can’t redo the process, “Few students are doing it, but it isn’t feasible for all. Some students are also NEET repeaters. They have already lost a couple of years due to that. To start from the beginning again is absurd even if we keep the financial waste aside.”
Students studying in East Ukraine vs West Ukraine, how is it different?
Most of the Indian students deciding to stay back are students studying in Western Ukrainian cities, where the situation isn’t that bad. Others from Eastern Ukrainian universities are still awaiting resolutions from the government. Sonia Lumba, whose daughter is a first-year student at Kharkiv National Medical University, says, “The university is not conducting classes anymore. We are just waiting desperately for some solution from the government because we are helpless and hopeless at this point.” She further adds, “For mobility, there are only a few options; none of those countries can accommodate everyone. The universities need to provide mobility facilities but they are not doing that. All doors seem closed at this point.”
Are all doors closed?
Lokhendra Singh, a sixth-year medical student of Vinnytsia National Pirogov Medical University and Ternopil National Medical University’s Vaishanani echo each other when they say, “Logically none of the remedies was feasible for most of us. We had to return to Ukraine. Accommodation in Indian colleges is not possible without an insane amount of bank balance or connections with higher officials. Cannot start from scratch after all the investment which rules out transfers. Finally, for mobility, it is too late now.” Deepak Kumar of Ternopil National Medical University, adds to this disillusionment when he asks EdexLive, “Why come back if there is no help?”