Indian students in Ukrainian universities—numbering around 20,000—are staring at an uncertain future amid the raging war. While evacuation is a paramount concern for governments across the globe, the Russian invasion has thrown international students’ academic journeys out of kilter.

Ravi Kumar Koul, a study-abroad consultant who has helped hundreds of Indians with admissions to MBBS courses in the east European country, told indianexpress.com the students would not lose academic years, because the National Medical Commission will allow them to be transferred to other universities.

“Students are being evacuated, and the situation in Ukraine is changing every second. The primary concern is getting the students back safely. The Indian government last week collected data of all Indian students enrolled in Ukraine via Google forms. If the situation gets better in the next couple of months, they can safely return to their universities. Otherwise other options will have to be explored,” said Koul, who runs Admission Advisor, a consultancy in Ghaziabad.

Koul said that students of one Ukrainian university could be transferred either to other universities in the country or to universities in another country. He advised students to make decisions carefully.

“The situation is grim in the eastern part of Ukraine. If these students can travel back soon, they can look for transfers to universities in the western region of the country. Any government university would be willing to absorb these students, but they have to be careful because private universities would want to get them. The quality of education in private or semi-government universities is questionable as well as expensive,” Koul cautioned.

Akshay Chaturvedi, founder of Leverage Edu, another study-abroad consultancy, also said the students were left with only two choices – either to get admission to a different Ukrainian university when the situation improves or get transferred to a medical school in a different country.

“Several countries have emphasised improving their healthcare infrastructure and started medical courses in the past five years. These students can gauge options in West Indies, the UK, Canada and Australia. While these options may be marginally more expensive than studying in Ukraine, they will yield a great return on investment in terms of post-study opportunities,” Chaturvedi said.

A 25-year-old student from Chandigarh who had returned to VN Karazin Kharkiv National Medical University in August 2021 to complete her MBBS degree told indianexpress.com, “The universities have assured me that online classes will continue. I have spent six years working on my MBBS degree. The KROK 2 examination, which is a licensing examination and an obligatory part of state certification to be a doctor or a pharmacist, is supposed to be held on May 24, but it seems very unlikely. We don’t know what will happen.”

In February and March 2014, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Back then, over 600 Indian MBBS students enrolled in Crimean universities such as Premiere State Medical University and Crimea State Medical University faced similar circumstances.

Koul said, “In 2014, some students chose to take the transfers and others decided to stay where they were. The Indian embassy had facilitated the transfer of students enrolled in the universities in the areas affected by the annexation.

However, Chaturvedi called the current crisis “very different” from what happened in 2014. The majority of students did not come back to India during the 2014 Crimean crisis, and just over 500 students had to be managed. Hence transferring these students to the eastern region of Ukraine was a feasible option,” he said.

According to Chaturvedi, the situation can be more confusing for fifth- or final-year MBBS students as they require clinical training. “The Indian government will have to function as a study-abroad consultant to shift these students because inducting all of them into Indian medical schools is not possible due to the limited infrastructure. The Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE) can be advanced, and final-year students can be appointed on duty, but junior students will have to join other universities,” said.

Dr Vishnu Venugopal was an MBBS student at Crimea State Medical University from 2013 to 2019 and was present in the country during the 2014 crisis. He said that after the initial few days, classes were conducted as usual and they were asked to always carry their identity cards.

“The situation was tense but not violent. Coming back to India was not an affordable decision. Hence I was one of the students who stayed back in the same university, and everything was put under the Russian administration overnight. Over 50 per cent of students had taken transfers to different universities in Ukraine, but it was not an easy process as they struggled to get their documents in the middle of the semester,” said the 28-year-old from Kerala’s Thrissur district. He works in Kochi now.

His classmate, 27-year-old Harsha Rai from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, was one of the students who had shifted to another university. “I had joined in 2013 and was just out of the foundation course where we were taught the Russian language. Suddenly, it was announced that Russia would take over. In the following days, we witnessed shortages of water, food, cash and even electricity. The Russian forces had blocked the airports and nobody could fly out. Eventually, the university moved under the Russian federation,” said Rai, who had shifted to the Dnipropetrovsk State Medical Academy in Ukraine.

According to Rai, several Indian students who approached the Indian embassy were told that no fee had to be paid at universities they were transferred to, but the directives were implemented differently.

“The universities were not ready to clear our transfer and wanted to hold us back. It was not a seamless process. We had to pay $400-500 extra to the universities that absorbed us, and we never got any fee refund,” said Rai, who cleared the FMGE in 2019 and works in India now.

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