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Final year medical student Thamaraiselvan Nithis, stranded in Dnipro (Dniepropetrovsk) in Ukraine, is wondering whether to feel lucky or devastated. He was supposed to be in Ukraine’s capital Kiev (Kyiv) on Friday to board a chartered flight to India. He had a ticket and was traveling to Kiev from Lugansk Medical University in Lugansk before he decided to stopover at Dnipro. Russian forces have begun entering Kiev, where the centre of action is shifting to after Russia invaded the eastern European country. While Nithis is happy that he escaped from being caught in the middle of the war, he is worried for his friends Athisivan Kabilanath, Ravi Vijeyanand, Subramanian Pavithran, Suriya and Pradeep who are now in Kiev.

“The last time I called them, my friends told me that they were not even able to get a cup of coffee. They are lodged in a bunker and they keep hearing the sound of unending shells destroying the capital. As of now, we are able to connect to them. But I am worried what would happen to them if the situation turns worse,” Nithis says.

While his friends are waiting for the shelling to stop, the students stranded in other parts of the country like Dnipro have been asked to travel to the border of Poland. The distance is more than 1,000 kilometers and they were told to go by road. “We are asked to paste Indian flags on the bus and proceed to Poland, the neighboring country. But we are scared of going by road,” he says.

A bus with an Indian flag, announcing that Indian students are on board, took the first batch of Indian students from Chernivtsi in Ukraine to the border with Romania, news agency ANI reported.

Caught in a foreign country, Nithis and others await Indian government action. “We see that Tamil Nadu state government is taking measures to get us back. The question is should we proceed to Poland or stay put?” asks Nithis.

Back in Tamil Nadu, the state government has appointed IAS officer Jacintha Lazarus, Commissioner of Rehabilitation and Welfare of Non-Resident Tamils, as the nodal officer for facilitating evacuation of Tamils from Ukraine. The state estimates that at least 5,000 Tamils — mostly students and professionals — are stranded in Ukraine.

“The last time I called them, my friends told me that they were not even able to get a cup of coffee. They are lodged in a bunker and they keep hearing the sound of unending shells destroying the capital. As of now, we are able to connect to them. But I am worried what would happen to them if the situation turns worse,” Nithis says.

Students and parents can contact 9445869848, 9600023645, 9940256444 and 044-28515288 for assistance. They can also reach out to the Ukraine Emergency Help Centre and Tamil Nadu Podhigai Illam, New Delhi (WhatsApp number 9289516716 and email ID: ukrainetamils@gmail.com). The State Emergency Control Room toll-free number 1070 is also accessible.

Until trouble started brewing with Russia, Ukraine remained one of the most favorite countries for students from India, especially those aspiring to become doctors. Not all of those who aspire for medical education gets a seat in India. Once the government quota at private medical colleges is filled up, studying abroad is cheaper than taking admission at a self-financed private medical college or deemed university in India.

After developed countries like the United States, UK, Australia and New Zealand, East European countries where Soviet era infrastructure is still intact offer better academics to Indian students.

“There are at least 10 medical universities in Ukraine and Indian students take up a minimum of 300 seats in every university. The students get the best tutoring, though there is less clinical exposure compared to India,” says Dr Imran Khan who studied in Ukraine. A good number of Indian students in Ukraine are from Tamil Nadu. He says these universities even provide coaching classes for the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination ahead of course completion, which makes them attractive choices for Indians. The FMGE, conducted by the Medical Council of India, is mandatory for a foreign educated medical professional to be able to practice in India.

Not just medical studies, many Indians have also taken up studying engineering in Ukrainian universities. T K S Pankajanaban from Madurai is studying aerospace engineering in Ukraine. The 21-year-old is doing his final year and was supposed to return shortly.

Pankajanaban chose Ukraine as the country had better infrastructure for a course like aerospace engineering, says Badri, his cousin.

The Covid-19 pandemic has ruined the prospects of many students studying in Ukraine. Most of them returned to India when the infection became widespread, but later returned to Ukraine to complete their studies. The invasion by Russia has ruined their dreams and spelt doom for a beautiful country, the students say.

While his friends are waiting for the shelling in Kiev to stop, the students stranded in other parts of the country like Dnipro have been asked to travel to the border of Poland. The distance is more than 1,000 kilometers and they were told to go by road. “We are asked to paste Indian flags on the bus and proceed to Poland, the neighboring country. But we are scared of going by road,” says Nithis.

Not only is Ukraine relatively inexpensive for medical education, it is a beautiful country with friendly people, says Dr Imran Khan. Nithis agrees.

When Khan was studying medicine from 2011 – 2017, Russia attacked and annexed Crimea, which was a part of Ukraine. He was studying in Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University then. As the Crimean crisis worsened, Khan and his friends had to be evacuated by the Vande Bharat mission.

“Watching TV, I am recalling those horror-filled days. The rumbling of tanks on main roads, non-stop shelling and monetary crisis as caps were forced on ATM transactions, it is like history repeating itself,” he says.

Ukranians have always been friendly towards Indians, says Nithis. Khan has experienced their hospitality too. He recalled how his Ukranian house owner protected him during the Crimean crisis. Nithis says that Ukranians will go that extra mile to help Indian students. Nights are safe and the country has good infrastructure and lifestyle, he says. But the country is back in a crisis, and Khan is worried, with memories of his time there weighing on his mind. Let peace prevail and stranded students and other Indians return safely, he wishes out loud.

Across Tamil Nadu, parents have been approaching the district administrations with petitions seeking to get their children back home safely. Pankajanaban’s father T N R K Sahajendran is one among them. “So far, I’ve been able to communicate with my son. He says things are fine at the place where he is staying. But we are very worried,” he adds.


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