Indian medical students return to war-torn Ukraine

Thousands of Indian medical students left Ukraine after Russia's full-scale invasion last year

Indian medical students return to war-torn Ukraine
Indian medical students return to war-torn Ukraine


Attending classes amidst air sirens has become a part of life for Sonu Sharma, a 23-year-old student at the National Medical University in Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine that has been badly hit by the ongoing war.

Sharma told DW that it was the pursuit of his career that made him take one of the toughest decisions of his life. "I had three options," he said. "Either I drop medicine or transfer to another university in a different country, which will cost a lot of money. Or I go back to Ukraine."

In December, he went for the third option to continue his fourth year of medicine. But it is not easy: "This is like hell. I don't know what will happen to me the next minute. But I am doing this for my career."

Operation Ganga

After Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Indian government put Operation Ganga into effect, evacuating around 22,500 Indian nationals from Ukraine via neighboring countries on over 90 flights. Around 20,000 of those evacuated were students, and the large majority were studying medicine.

Many have yet to find a stable situation over a year later. Thousands were able to transfer to universities in other countries in the broader region, including Georgia, Serbia and Kyrgyzstan, thanks to an academic mobility program coordinated by the Indian National Medical Commission (NMC). And some 640 chose to go back to Ukraine, according to a report in the Indian daily Economic Times.

'It feels like mental torture'

"We will be in class, or I will be studying in the library and suddenly we hear siren sounds, which means we must go to the bunker immediately to be safe," said Abhijit Singh Parmar, a third-year medical student at Bogomolets National Medical University and friend of Sharma's who returned to Ukraine last November.

"I do not feel good. It feels like mental torture," he added, explaining that he had now decided to leave the war-torn country again because he did not feel safe. He will continue his studies in Kyrgyzstan, even though this will be more expensive for him and is currently awaiting transcripts and other documents.

"Even this morning at 3 a.m. when I was sleeping, the siren rang. We had to go to the bunker. There are power cuts that extend to 12 hours a day. I have to study with a small lamp most of the time and it is difficult for me to cope with the situation."

For his part, Sharma said that he would tough it out a little because he was reluctant to go through the bureaucracy of transferring to a different university in another country. "The quality of life is not good here. But I will see how things pan out and will take a decision."

'The Indian government did nothing for us'

Sharma said that one of the reasons he had returned to Ukraine was because there was little support at home. "The Indian government did nothing for us," he complained. "There was no clarity in any of the instructions given."

It was because of this lack of clarity that R. B. Gupta, from the northern Indian city of Gurgaon, decided to set up an organization to fight for the students' admission to Indian medical colleges.

But he told DW that he had lost hope in the government and the Supreme Court of India, which he has petitioned.

Last year, the top court asked the Indian government to form a committee of experts to find a solution for medical students who are unable to complete their studies because of the war in Ukraine and also the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Why has the government still not taken any decision on what to do with the medical students who returned from Ukraine," Gupta asked, saying that his 21-year-old son was thinking of quitting medicine altogether and changing profession.

The Indian government has argued that there are currently no provisions for accommodating students from foreign medical institutes.

"I am still waiting for the decision from the court," another parent from the western Indian state of Gujarat told DW. "I am not sending my son back to Ukraine."

'It's going to be hard to start practicing again'

Meanwhile, there are thousands of medical students who returned to India and are still struggling to decide what to do.

Many fear that the break in their studies will reflect badly in the long term. They do not know whether online classes or local internships will be validated.

Aarthi Paramasivam, a fourth-year medical student from Tamil Nadu, said that she was worried because she had lost six months of practice. Now, she is planning to go to Georgia where she has a place at a medical school. Her parents have had to provide a lot of money to arrange for her move to a new country.

"It's going to be hard to start practicing again," she told DW. "After returning to India, I managed to do an internship in local hospitals where I could keep in touch but I was expecting to leave for Georgia in September so I had to quit."

She is still waiting for all the formalities to go through.

Edited by: Anne Thomas

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