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Medical students who left Ukraine call for government help

South Asian medical students who were studying in Ukraine when the war broke out are calling on their respective governments to let them continue their degrees in their home countries. 

An estimated 18,000 Indian students were forced to flee Ukraine in March. Photo: Unsplash

Singh claims that if the medical commission does not step in, his only option is to return to Ukraine.

An estimated 18,000 Indian students were forced to flee Ukraine in March and many of them are now continuing their studies remotely from India – but this means they won’t be qualified to practice medicine in the country when they graduate. 

India’s National Medical Commission, which regulates medical education, dictates that students must complete in-person practicals to qualify, but students are unable to do these while studying remotely.  

“They are just toying with our future”

However the Indian government has said that the country’s universities are unable to accommodate the students who have returned to India due to a lack of capacity. 

Utkarsh Singh, 22, was in his fifth year at Ternopil National Medical University in Ukraine when the war began. He fled the country via Romania. 

He claims that if the medical commission does not step in, his only option is to return to Ukraine, despite warnings from the Indian Embassy that it is unsafe to do so. 

“It’s like we are at the mercy of the NMC,” Singh said. “They are just toying with our future.”

Last month, students in Delhi embarked on a hunger strike to try and pressure the government into action, while others protested outside the NMC’s offices. 

Meanwhile, students in Nepal face a similar situation. 

Roshan Jha, 24 from Nepal, is a third year medical student at Kharkiv National Medical University in Ukraine. 

Like Singh, Jha is continuing to study online but this means that he will not be qualified to practice medicine in Nepal when he completes his degree. 

“We have the option to transfer to other countries but… we cannot afford that much money,” Jha said, adding that it is the “worst feeling ever” to “worry about my future and study”. 

It is unclear how many Nepali students are affected, but Jha believes there were fewer than 10 at his institution. He therefore believes that the government should allow students like him to transfer to local universities. 

Some governments have allowed returning students to continue their studies in their home countries – the Irish government confirmed in March that Irish and Ukrainian students would be able to transfer to universities in Ireland. The University of Cambridge in the UK has welcomed medical students with Ukrainian citizenship.

But finding new spaces for many medical students has been challenging, according to Medlink Students, an organisation that helps students enrol in medical courses abroad and sent thousands of students to universities in Ukraine before the war began. 

“Not all universities have that many available seats”

Sam El Mais, managing director at Medlink Students, said most universities the organisation has reached out to are unable to accept student transfers. 

“Not all universities accept transfers in the middle of the year, and not all universities have that many available seats,” El Mais said. 

“Most universities in Europe accepting transfers are in countries part of the EU. This means that thousands of specific regulations limit their freedom and flexibility of decisions. 

“Any violation could mean that there is a risk for the university to lose its accreditation or not meet the international criteria of education quality.”

Even when universities are accepting transfers, El Mais said it is also difficult to retrieve documents like transcripts from Ukrainian universities “because they are now closed or understaffed and under threat at all times”. 

While the organisation has successfully transferred over 300 students, El Mais said they are still receiving daily enquiries from students as many find themselves unsure how to continue their studies. 

In Germany, the international students who fled to the country from Ukraine have been given a deadline of the end of August to apply for permission to stay in the country.

Medlink Students said it is now trying to work with universities outside of the EU, in addition to those in the EU, to reduce costs and regulations and to provide more options for students.  

Meanwhile, students like Jha and Singh are debating whether to continue waiting for their governments to take action or whether they should consider returning to Ukraine. 

“It’s like choosing between the devil and the deep sea,” Jha said. “It’s our future on the line.”

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