Parents slam Indian govt’s abysmal failure to help students fleeing Ukraine, smear campaign against them

Parents of Indian students enrolled in medical colleges in Ukraine said they received absolutely no help from Indian embassy staff in leaving the war-torn region to head to neighbouring countries

Indian students evacuated from Ukraine (Representative Photo)
Indian students evacuated from Ukraine (Representative Photo)

Rahul Gul

Parents of students who were based in Ukraine to receive medical education and are now stranded in the war-torn region have lashed out at the failure of the Indian government to help with their evacuation and snide comments by pro-govt elements about their children’s alleged lack of academic merit and their ‘privileged background’.

Speaking to National Herald, Sanjay Sehgal, a resident of Dwarka in New Delhi, fulminated that his daughter Simran as well as a group of 40 other Indian students studying at Poltava State Medical and Dental University, had been forced to travel to the Hungarian border by arranging a bus on their own and were then forced to wait for immigration the entire night in sub-zero temperature, without any help whatsoever from Indian embassy staff posted in the region.

“They travelled through Zakarpattia oblast along Tisza river valley and reached Chop-Tysa, where they were forced to wait the entire night for immigration formalities. They just huddled together and somehow managed to cross into Hungary in the morning and reach Budapest. No Indian diplomatic staff was present or intervened at any stage to help them. What a shame for the country!” he said.

“We parents have gone though hell even as our leaders are busy playing vote-bank politics by promising temples etc and seeking support for party candidates in state polls. They are least bothered that young Indian citizens are going though such a traumatic ordeal in a war-torn foreign land,” he said.

Asked to comment on an ongoing smear campaign against such students, with a Union minister insinuating that they had to go study abroad because they failed to crack entrance examinations to secure medical seats in India, Sehgal said it was the government’s failure to create adequate infrastructure of medical colleges that had led to scarcity of seats.

“There are simply not enough seats in medical colleges to accommodate even the most meritorious students. And not everyone can pay crores of rupees in capitation fees to private medical colleges to admit their children there. Those making such comments are totally shameless,” he remarked.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi had on Tuesday remarked that students were studying abroad "after failing to qualify" in competitive exams. "Ninety per cent of Indians who study medicine abroad fail to clear qualifying exams in India," he told reporters, adding that those who completed their medical degree abroad had to pass the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination to practise in India.

A resident of Najafgarh, Ranbir Singh, whose son and a niece too had got trapped in Ukraine before being able to make it through the border into Hungary, reaffirmed that the students had received no support or information from Indian embassy staff.

“A group of them travelled by rail and managed to cross the border and reach Budapest on their own accord. They did not receive any official help at any stage, though I have now lost contact with them either because of network issues or their cellphone batteries are dead. We are just hopng that they reach home soon safely,” he said.

He was unable to give details such as where the students were enrolled in Ukraine and where they crossed the border.

A single mother whose daughter was enrolled at Donetsk National Medical University said she had gone incommunicado. “Despite making innumerable calls to govt helplines and posting tweets etc, there is absolutely no information about her whereabouts and no help forthcoming. An official from Delhi govt made a brief formal visit but was of no further help except giving reassurances,” she said on the condition of anonymity.

“I’m a doctor myself and the fact of the matter is that students such as my daughter avail of medical education in countries abroad because unlike India, they have relatively adequate number of medical universities. Most of them are entirely public funded and they select and train sufficient numbers of their own young nationals into medical graduates for little or no tuition fee, who after graduating take care of the entire population of their fellow citizens,” she said.

“What people making snarky comments forget is that the parents of such students are not necessarily well-off. In some cases, they even sell ancestral farmland just for the sake of their children,” she said.

“What’s more, the picture of paid medical education for Indians in Eastern Europe wasn't all rosy and free from discrimination even in peace time, but this is war. We can’t expect a society at war, unsure of its fate and food supply, to take care of foreign nationals. That’s why we expected the Indian govt to step in. Unfortunately, they failed miserably,” she lamented.

“It is completely wrong to blame and shame such students. They deserve compassion and every possible help, what with their careers now thrown into jeopardy,” she added.

“Why are trolls overlooking the fact that scions of political and business families allied with the current regime, who are far from any definition of a working class hero, are always dutifully spared from their spiteful wrath,” she said.

Incidentally, Joshi’s remarks had also drawn a sharp response from the grieving father of Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagowdar (21), who was killed in Russian shelling in Ukraine's Kharkiv on Tuesday.

“Naveen was an intelligent student who simply could not afford to study medicine in India and so went to Ukraine,” his father Shekharappa Gyanagoudar was quoted as saying by NDTV at his home in Karnataka's Chalageri.

"The donation is very high for those wanting to study medicine here. Intelligent students will go abroad to study, and they spend a lesser amount when compared to Karnataka. Here, a student will have to pay in crores to get a medical seat under quota," he added, pointing out that Naveen had scored 97 per cent in his school exams.

"No talented person should be born to a poor family. There is no value for talent in our value for talent," his mother Vikayalakshmi said, weeping.

Siddappa, a relative of Naveen, was quoted as saying that since the family had financial constraints, Ukraine was among the more viable options before the family.

“The family did not want to buy a management quota seat. But all family members pooled in money to send Naveen to Ukraine so he could chase his dream of becoming a doctor,” he said.

It is noteworthy that as per official information, only about 6,000 of the estimated 20,000 Indian students stranded in Ukraine have been brought back to the country so far.

"There were around 20,000 students/citizens who were stranded in Ukraine. Of them, 4,000 were brought back to India before February 24. Additional 2,000 students were brought back to India till Tuesday and efforts are on to evacuate the remaining Indians stuck there," Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said on Wednesday while speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event.

Incidentally, late on Wednesday, the official Twitter handle of Indian embassy in Ukraine tweeted a second advisory, asking Indian students in Kharkiv to leave the city immediately, without offering any help. The embassy itself shut down on Tuesday.

Many felt this was a case of too little, too late. "War clouds had been gathering in the region for weeks. Then the invasion actually happened. Why didn't they evacuate students earlier? Ain't those serving Indian Foreign Service expected to use their brains?" a parent said, requesting that the remark not be attributed to her.

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Published: 03 Mar 2022, 8:49 AM