Seven months after the Russia-Ukraine war forced nearly 20,000 Indian students, most of them studying medicine in Ukraine, to return home to India, many are now making the journey back to their colleges in the war-torn European country.
The students, mostly those in the fourth, fifth and sixth year of their courses in Ukrainian medical universities, say they were left with little choice but to head back – given practical difficulties involved in taking a transfer to universities in other countries, and the need for hands-on training for final-year medical students.
At the height of the war, the students had mostly left through Poland, Hungary, Slovakia or Romania, but now, as they return, they have been doing so via Moldova, a small country to the southwest of Ukraine which has been issuing e-visas. Most of the students have been returning to Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Vinnytsia, Ukrainian cities in the west, which, they say, are “comparatively safer” and away from war zones.
With the airspace over Ukraine still closed, the students have been taking an indirect flight from Delhi, with an eight-hour layover at Istanbul, to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, from where they take a bus to get across the border.
This is the route that Kritee Suman, a fourth-year student of Ivano-Frankivsk Medical University, took to get to the northwestern city of Ivano after spending six months at home in Bihar.
“I decided to come back as there was no point waiting any longer in India. Clinical subjects require practical exposure and that cannot be done online. The National Medical Council (NMC) has already said that online-mode degrees won’t be valid in India,” says Suman, who spent around Rs 1 lakh to return to Ukraine. “We are now visiting hospitals here, getting hands-on training. Everything is quite normal. My family was worried when I left, but they eventually left it to me,” she says.
Since they returned to India in March, the fate of these students had been uncertain with India maintaining that there is no provision to accommodate them in medical colleges and universities in the country.
However, in a notice issued last week, the National Medical Commission (NMC) allowed Indian students to opt for the academic mobility programme offered by Ukraine that allows them to relocate to universities in other countries and complete their studies.
Students, however, say that such a transfer involved practical hurdles.
Suman says agents charged heavily for a transfer to universities in other countries. “Besides, the course fee in other European countries is way higher than in Ukraine. The best option was to return to Ukraine,” she says.
Kartikey Tripathi, a fifth-year student at Lviv National Medical University, says, “The mobility programme was not really practical because universities in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, where the fee is relatively affordable, are not as good as those in Ukraine. Elsewhere in Europe, it is just too costly to start from scratch.”
Convincing his parents was the hardest part. “Ladke aaye hain gharwalon se (I had to fight with my family to come here). I assured them that if the situation deteriorates, I will return home,” says Tripathi, who is from Gorakhpur in UP.
Anurag Krishna, a fourth-year student of Vinnytsya National Medical University, who, too, returned via Moldova, says western Ukraine is “absolutely safe” and “life is normal, not like what they show on news channels”.
“It wouldn’t have been easy for me to start all over again in any other country, not even India. It is easy to talk about mobility programmes but there are so many formalities and procedures… fifth- and sixth-year students cannot afford to wait and waste any more time. I knew that NMC was not going to help us in any way so I decided to return,” he says, adding that he had to work hard to convince his parents.
“I told them that they have to be brave. I showed some videos from Ukraine to tell them that the situation is peaceful, and they agreed,” he says.
Another student, who has returned to Lviv and who spoke on condition of anonymity, too said shifting to universities in other countries wouldn’t have been easy.
“The scoring and evaluation system in Ukrainian universities is different from those in other countries. The subjects and even course-duration are different. For instance, here MBBS is called MD and it is a six-year course, unlike in India, where it is for five years,” she said.
Aditi, a student from Lviv National Medical University, says, “My family was sceptical about sending me back but I did not want to stay at home anymore. So I returned to the city that has been home for years now.”