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International medical students risk “losing everything” after fleeing Ukraine

Otumudia Dennis, a second year medical student from Nigeria, was living and studying in Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine when the bombing began. On February 28, he fled the city, journeying by train to Lviv, then to Uzhhorod, before finally arriving in Hungary.  

International medical students have been left with nowhere to go after fleeing Ukraine Photo: Pexels

More than 200 students have applied to Semmelweis University in Budapest and around 1,000 have expressed interest via email

“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.” 

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4 Responses to International medical students risk “losing everything” after fleeing Ukraine

  1. I can offer an immediate room in my home for a medical/or similar student who can exchange their University course to my town : Sheffield ,South Yorkshire in the UK. Also I have another property for students which will become free in September 2022. Both these accommodations are within 15 minutes walk from The Medical School at Sheffield University, & close to all Sheffield Hospitals. Please contact me if I can help, Best wishes, Jan

  2. If truelly EU,is in solidarity with Ukraine,they should not evacuete international students,back to their home counties,but they should consider to give protection to them,and especially accepted them transfer to their universities,on scholarships ,as even most of those international students were getting such education by scholarship,and now since war started, scholarships stopped,and some scholarships had been paid to Ukraine universities.
    Some international students from Africa,can not access MBBS,in their home universities,MBBS,in Europe mostly,so if they are not accepted in EU for protection,so as the Ukraine national benefits,the international will remain as orphans.
    If EU only accept Ukraine nationals and hid their faces to third countries,it will like accepting to marry a lady and when she get a child,you reject the child.
    Tomorrow,those international students will be of no future carrier,if you EU countries can not accept them in your countries for same protection as the way you protect the Ukraine national.
    Tomorrow,if the international students back to their realize total hopeless,they will start drugs and criminal,and that will be as a result of the European rejection.
    Either white or black,we are of God image.
    Please. obey God,all loving all of His creation.

  3. It is undoubtedly a challenging and stressful situation for international medical students who have had to flee Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict and instability in the country. These students have invested a significant amount of time, effort, and money into their education and training in Ukraine, and the current situation puts their academic progress and future careers at risk.

    Many of these international medical students are now facing uncertainty and financial difficulties. They have had to leave behind their studies, their homes, and their belongings, and they are now struggling to make ends meet in their new locations. They may also face language barriers and other challenges related to adapting to a new country’s culture and education system.

    Furthermore, the pandemic has made things even more challenging for these students. Travel restrictions, closed borders, and quarantine requirements have made it difficult for them to return to Ukraine or continue their studies in other countries.

    It is essential for the international community to provide support and assistance to these students during this difficult time. Educational institutions, governments, and non-governmental organizations can work together to provide financial aid, language support, and academic resources to help these students continue their education and achieve their career goals. With the right support, these students can overcome the challenges they face and build a brighter future for themselves and their families.

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