War in Ukraine leaves Indian students stranded and desperate to complete their studies

Shishupal Rozen’s dream of becoming a doctor came crashing down on February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

The fourth-year medical student was training at the biggest university in Kharkiv when Russia unleashed some of the war’s fiercest bombardment on Ukraine’s second city.

Rozen took shelter from the blockade at Studentska tube station, which reminded him of photos he had seen of London during World War II.

As part of Operation Ganga (Ganges), New Delhi organized the mass evacuation of Indian students, who numbered 15,000 to 20,000 before the war, to Romania, Hungary and Poland. Rozen managed to enter Poland in March and returned home from Warsaw on a government-organized evacuation flight.

“When we arrived in Delhi, there were a lot of ministers welcoming us,” said Rozen, 23. They did everything so that we could be safe after crossing the Ukrainian border.

But more than five months later, Rozen is living at home with his family in a village near Patna, in India’s northeast state of Bihar. He recently completed his semester online. But local authorities don’t recognize online training for aspiring doctors, so he tries unsuccessfully to get a place at a medical college in India.

“We came from a war zone to fight another war,” Rozen said. “This time our future is at stake and the Indian government is in mute mode.”

Rozen is just one of thousands of Indian students whose education has been suspended and who are demanding that the Indian government and medical authorities help them.

Since fleeing Ukraine, the students have staged protests, including a recent hunger strike in New Delhi. They asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials to support them and asked the authorities to accommodate them in national medical colleges so that they can complete their studies.

The students’ complaints are unusual in that they come from a young, largely middle-class and upwardly mobile demographic, where support for the ruling Bharatiya Janata party is widespread.

India needs medical personnel, but criticism of the government has been muted in a country facing myriad economic and social challenges.

“Students come from different parts of India and concerted action between them is difficult to carry out a long and effective protest that could make a difference,” added Ashok Swain, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden and a critic. frequent of the Modi government. .

The plight of students was raised recently in the Indian parliament.

“We have been in contact with the Ukrainian education authorities in this context,” replied Meenakshi Lekhi, Minister of Culture. “The Ukrainian side essentially reiterated its willingness to continue the online courses.” She did not address the issue of student accommodation in Indian institutions.

Before the war, Indians constituted the largest group of foreigners studying in Ukraine, accounting for almost a quarter of the total.

Ukrainian medical schools offer courses in English, which were a popular alternative for Indians unable to secure places in their country’s fiercely competitive state colleges or pay for a private institution.

Akash Raj, 19, a second-year student at the Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University in western Ukraine, was woken up by a phone call the morning of the invasion. “My friend called and said there had been a bomb blast at a nearby airport and when we woke up we saw a black cloud over it.”

The Indian Embassy told the students to leave, he said, and he took a bus to Romania. After an eight-hour trek on foot and a night of waiting in sub-zero temperatures, he managed to cross the border and then fly to Delhi.

Back in India, Raj returned to his family home in Gurgaon near Delhi, where he is taking online classes from Ukraine. “I’m not happy because I really like offline courses,” he said.

Her father, RV Gupta, a medical engineer, belongs to an association of parents of evacuated students, which has asked the government and the courts for compensation for their children and organized several demonstrations.

“What we expected was for the government to think positively and welcome all students to India,” Gupta said, “but they didn’t.”

Medical students who returned from Ukraine demonstrate in New Delhi in July demanding that the government allow them to complete their education at state universities
Students demand that the government allow them to complete their studies in state universities © Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times Images/Getty Images

A senior Indian official told the Financial Times that the matter was being handled by the respective state governments. “As far as central government is concerned, the existing rules on medical education – admissions, qualifications, eligibility criteria, etc. – must be followed and respected,” he said.

Authorities have pointed out that admission requirements and standards for doctors are still difficult for foreign-trained doctors, whether from Ukraine or elsewhere.

Thousands of Indian students studying in China have also returned home since 2020 due to Beijing’s draconian Zero Covid policies.

Last month India’s National Medical Commission said it would allow medical students who had graduated before being forced to leave Ukraine, China or elsewhere to take screening tests that would would practice medicine.

However, the measure did not cover students whose classes were interrupted halfway, as with the majority of students who had to evacuate, including Rozen.

Despite the obstacles, he hopes to return to Ukraine after the war to complete his studies. “I think one day it will happen,” he said. “I can move hell or heaven to become a doctor.”

Twitter: @JohnReedwrites

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