‘Left With No Option’: Indian Students In Ukraine Stay Put Despite Advisory

Students believe the only reason why the government issued the advisory to “immediately leave Ukraine by available means” is to protect them from criticism.

Indian Students In Ukraine Stay Put Despite Advisory
Indian Students In Ukraine Stay Put Despite Advisory (Photo: India Ahead Network)

Over a thousand Indian students are reportedly in Ukraine, even as Russia’s attack on the country escalates. But why have so many Indian students chosen to return to Ukraine, and why despite two advisories – once in October 19 and again in October 25 – by the Indian Embassy in Ukraine, refuse to come back to India? Shubham Sharma, an MBBS student in his fifth year at the Ternopil National Medical University spoke to India Ahead from the war hit country, which he returned to on September 29 with five others.

The government of India, he says has given them no other choice. The National Medical Council (NMC) of India had in August of this year, just before the new semester in September was to begin, stated that online classes were allowed for theory subjects. It added that it would have to be mandatorily supplemented by “offline practical and clinical training done in the Medical University and or its affiliated Hospital during their MBBS course”.

A certificate, the NMC said, issued by the Foreign Medical University for successful completion of offline practical and clinical training would be required to be furnished by the Foreign Medical graduates.

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Furthermore, the same guidelines by the NMC in August had stated that it did not recognise the ‘mobility programme’ being offered by the Ukrainian government for foreign medical students. The programme gives students the option to study at another university for a few semesters under the ‘student exchange’ programme.

By late September the NMC changed its mind and notified three Georgian medical universities where the mobility programme could be taken, and also released a list of 29 countries where admission transfers would be accepted.

Sharma says that while he applied to many universities he was accepted by those in Romania, Poland, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The catch though, is that he would have to go back a semester, which practically does not make sense.

“This option would have just prolonged the process. When we have to come back to India and then give our Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (FMGE) in December after finishing our degree in May. Then expected to do a 1-year internship, this would mean another eight months added to an already 7.5 years of study. For many who have also taken loans, this would be impossible. The government left us with no option.”

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The Indian students had upon their return from Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in February, appealed to the government to be given a seat in Indian universities. This was denied. They then requested for the recognition of online lessons, which too did not meet its desired end.

Sharma says the next appeal, for which he too attended protests at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar was that the Indian government allow them to continue their online classes, and attend clinical classes for observation in India. With all options closed, for people like Sharma and about 25 other Indian classmates of his the decision to return was inevitable.  

(Meanwhile the Supreme Court of India will hear petitions filed by medical students, on November 1, who returned from Ukraine. They seek permission to continue their medical education at Indian universities.)

“We have already suffered a lot…” he says even as the question remains as to how he intends to remain despite the warnings by the authorities. His university had earlier in the month sent them a document which the Indian embassy had evidently asked to be filled out. It had enquired the students’ details, including their address in India, parents contact and so on.

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Students believe the only reason why the government issued the advisory to “immediately leave Ukraine by available means” is to protect them from criticism. When Russia’s invasion began, many Indian students found themselves stuck in the middle of conflict. The Indian government had then been accused of not warning their citizens on time. Sharma’s reason to return in spite of the obvious danger is also why he will not be coming back, just yet.

The latest reports say Russia is digging in for the “heaviest of battles” in the southern region of Kherson, in preparation to defend the largest city under its control in Ukraine. Worryingly, Russia’s Defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, has warned western counterparts that the war in Ukraine is heading for an “uncontrolled escalation