It has been over six months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began with the first reports of bombing on February 24. Several Indians, especially students, were severely affected as they remained in bomb shelters for days and were eventually evacuated from the borders of neighbouring countries like Romania, Hungary, and Poland.
Most of them aspiring medical professionals, are unable to leave the trauma behind, months after they have returned home to safety. For one, their future remains uncertain and hopes of joining back their universities in Ukraine, remain dim.
Back home, lack of support from the National Medical Council (NMC) with options of continuing education in India, have left them in despair.
What Are The Indian Students From Ukraine Demanding?
In July 2022, a large number of medical students and their parents staged a hunger strike at Delhi's Jantar Mantar under the Parents' Association of Ukraine Medical Students (PAUMS). They demanded accommodating these students in Indian medical colleges to complete their degrees.
A PIL had been filed before the Supreme Court of India. This was done following the recommendation by a Lok Sabha committee to accommodate these students in Indian colleges, during the Monsoon Session.
Following a Supreme Court hearing, the National Medical Council issued a no-objection to Ukraine's Academic Mobility Programme provided the Student Test Regulations of 2002 are fulfilled. This allows Ukraine returned students to temporarily move to other countries to continue their education. The degrees will still be awarded by the parent university in Ukraine. But does this mean the students can relocate to India? No.
No provision has been made for students to continue their degrees in India.
The matter in court has been adjourned to September 15th.
Universities in Ukraine, earlier this year, announced the Student Academic Mobility (SAM) programme to allow students to complete their education in their home countries. However, the NMC had said they do not recognise the programme.
As their sessions in Ukraine begin between September and October, students are restless and unsure of their options.
What About Studying In Other Countries?
Medical colleges in Ukraine offer six-year MBBS courses and thus, students can only take transfers to other countries where universities offer similar courses.
"This includes countries like Russia, Georgia, and Armenia. Those like Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are inviting Indian students but owing to their five-year programmes, they may require them to drop a year," explains Abhinav Kumar, a Patna-based student from the Ternopil National Medical University, Ukraine.
Except Kumar a first-year student himself, cannot opt for a transfer due to the updated Foreign Medical Graduates (FMG) guidelines issued by the National Medical Council (NMC) on November 18, 2021. "As per these guidelines, students who have started their courses after November 18, cannot opt for transfers if they want to appear for the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (FMGE) that allows them to practice in India," Kumar told BOOM.
He explained that this ensures they will never be able to practice in India.
Does the NMC's new rule apply to students who began their course of study after November 18 2021?
The new NMC notice makes no mention of this. There is currently no clarity on whether those who fall under the notice issued on November 18th, 2021, mandating medical students to complete their degrees from a single university without transfers, will be able to avail the programme. Abhinav Kumar, who spoke to BOOM also said, "The no-objection is ill-timed since admissions for most universities that students can avail transfers to, are over. Sessions begin between September and October".
For other students too, transfers are not an easy option.
Maithili Gulhane, a third-year Mumbai-based student of Chernivtsi National University said,"The most popular countries right now are Uzbekistan, Georgia and Russia. The courses in Uzbekistan are not at par with those in Ukraine. Georgia has private universities only, and one recently lost its license, leaving students in the lurch."
As for Russia, the SWIFT sanctions have made payments to Russian universities increasingly difficult.
"The only workaround I found was traveling to Delhi to open an account in a Russian bank and facilitating transfers," she said. "And then there is the instability due to war," she added.
Maithili, like many other students who have returned from Ukraine, is awaiting a positive outcome from the PIL before she plans her next steps.
"Online classes at my university have begun on September 1 and I can only attend them if I pay the full semester fee," she said. She has not paid the fees yet.
What About Universities In Ukraine?
While classes have restarted in many universities in Ukraine, they are only limited to online classes.
Ukrainian universities are offering a Student Academic Mobility Programme (SAM) to Indian students through which they can opt to study at another university for a few semesters. However, the NMC has not recognised this student exchange programme.
Medical universities in Ukraine are also allowing students to attend theoretical classes online. "They claim that once we return to Ukraine, we will be brought up to speed with the practicals. However, NMC, does not recognise online classes for medical degrees for more than six months and there is no saying when we will be able to return," Kumar said, adding that he is awaiting his NEET results and if qualified, hopes to be able to take a loan to complete his education.
What Are The Other Options?
A loan, and the high cost of medical degrees in India, is not an option available to many.
Siyona Ganesan, who was evacuated from a bomb shelter in Sumy State University earlier this year, said that she has started online classes since private medical colleges in India are too expensive.
"Then again, my parents don't want me to go back to Ukraine for physical classes even when the war is over. I might have to give up my MBBS dreams and settle for a course in paramedics in India," she said.
What About Final-Year Students?
Among the relatively fortunate ones, final-year students in Ukraine left the country in February with only one month left for their courses to conclude.
"We have received our degrees. The KROK (a licensing exam) for sixth year was cancelled," said Naushad Khan, a medical student from Odisha.
Deepak Goyat, another sixth-year student from Ukraine, now in Haryana, was lucky but remains worried about family members and friends, who have courses pending.
"Quite a few of my juniors are planning to go back to Ukraine because they have run out of options. This, even after the trauma they have endured during the war," he said.
Deepak estimated that with direct travel no longer an option and fares through neighbouring countries getting more expensive, ticket prices to Ukraine will be over a lakh. But, he said, that is the option many will have to choose.
Why Did They Go To Ukraine To Study Medicine?
Earlier this year, even as students from bunkers sent out pleas to be evacuated, social media was flooded with apathy. Many questioned the students, who were struggling to get out of the war-torn country: "Why did you leave the country to study? Why did you not leave before the attacks? Why should the Indian embassy evacuate you who you travelled on your own will?"
Ukraine has been a popular destination for aspiring Indian medical students owing to its government universities that offer courses in English language at low costs.
"Pursuing an MBBS course here in India will set us back by at least Rs 60 lakh (often much more), while the same course in Ukraine including accommodation and allowances could work out to Rs 35 lakh only," explained Abhinav Kumar.
What Do Students Want From NMC?
Many of the students BOOM spoke to said that they have tried calling the NMC directly or have received updates from fellow-students. They claim that they have received no support or empathy, and have instead been asked 'why did they have to leave the country?'
While the PIL and PAUMS demand that students be accommodated in Indian colleges and deemed universities, Kumar says, "The hope is for NMC to recognise the circumstances and at least allow for practical training to take place in India while we continue to take online theoretical classes from our universities in Ukraine".
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had earlier announced the allocation of seats in the state for 412 medical students for practical training. However, no permission from NMC was granted in the Lok Sabha, citing a lack of provisions in acts governing medical education in India.
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