“It was a horrible journey,” Dennis said, “but I’m alive.”
Now that he is safely away from the war, Dennis, like many others in his position, is keen to continue his studies. “I’m trying not to be too depressed and traumatised,” he said, as he desperately searches for universities that will admit him.
Dennis is one of the 76,000 international students who were living in Ukraine before the war. Medical degrees at Ukrainian universities are particularly popular among international students because they offer a quality education without breaking the bank.
“This whole equation of good education, achievable minimum high school [grade], and affordable prices can hardly be achieved elsewhere,” said Rahma Hassan, an Egyptian medical student who had been studying in Ukraine until the outbreak of war.
A few days before the Russian invasion, as rumours swirled and the Ukrainian population grew increasingly nervous, Rahma travelled back to Egypt, abandoning both her studies and her home for the past four years.
“We didn’t have any transcripts or any evidence that we were studying”
“The situation happened all of a sudden. No-one was actually predicting it, we didn’t think it would really happen,” she said. “So we just had to flee. We didn’t have any transcripts or any evidence that we were studying in a certain faculty at a certain university.”
Thousands of students like Rahma and Dennis are now left with nowhere to go and no evidence that they ever even studied medicine.
Medlink, an UK-based agency that facilitates medical study in Europe for international students, said that in the couple of days after the invasion, its phones were “on fire” as panicked students searched for help.
“The majority of their governments and other organisations are not helping them,” said Sam El Mais, managing director of Medlink.
Some European countries, like Hungary and Poland, have publicly said they will admit students fleeing Ukraine but “nothing substantial has been offered so far” according to El Mais. Rahma claimed that one Polish university she applied to said they would only consider foreign students if they had spaces left after admitting Ukrainian students, while Dennis said he has applied to Hungarian universities but has yet to receive a response.
“There is a big shortage in university places, and inability to accommodate any significant number of students,” said El Mais, adding that transferring to a university in a different country is “fairly complicated” due to differences in curriculums, the documentation required and additional costs.
Despite this, Medlink is working with the European University of Tbilisi in Georgia to transfer students and said it is “looking for more options”, which it expects to announce next week.
Semmelweis University in Budapest said it is ready to offer medical students the opportunity to continue their studies, adding that more than 200 students have applied and around 1,000 have expressed interest via email. It has not yet announced how many students it plans to admit or how they will be prioritised.
Agreements have also been made for specific cohorts of students. On March 8, the Ghana government signed an agreement with Grenada to transfer 200 Ghanian medical students who were studying in Ukraine, according to Africanews. The Irish government has also promised Irish students that they can continue their studies at home.
While the Indian government said Indian medical colleges could not “immediately” offer spaces to returning students, a member of the Indian government tweeted on March 2 that Polish universities will be “opening their doors to our students from Ukraine”. It is unclear whether any Indian students have been admitted yet. Gulf Medical University in UAE also announced on March 8 that it will offer places to Indian students.
Israel has said that while it can’t offer returning Israeli students places at medical schools, it will be able to offer them places on medical-related study courses.
“I’ve been studying medicine for four years already and I was only two years away from graduation. Now I will lose everything,”
In Ukraine, university staff are reluctant to abandon their students despite the war. Dnipro Medical Institute in Ukraine is hoping to resume online classes soon, according to El Mais, who said there has been “a big effort from the university staff”.
For now, students like Rahma and Dennis are stuck in limbo, unable to return to Ukraine and unable to continue their studies elsewhere. Rahma said she feels “totally destroyed”.
“I’ve been studying medicine for four years already and I was only two years away from graduation. Now I will lose everything,” she said.
But Medlink says that students should not lose hope. “We will work on finding opportunities for transfer for them. They will not end up without a university.”