Almost two months after Indian students began returning to war-torn Ukraine to resume classes, a fresh escalation in the conflict with Russia, which prompted India to issue two back-to-back warnings asking citizens to leave the country immediately – has added to the uncertainty among students.
Despite the renewed tension, the young people, mostly medical students, have decided to stay in Ukraine for now, and many of them say they have no choice but to do so. Others say they are waiting and watching before deciding what to do next. Some of the students are moving temporarily to neighboring Hungary and Slovakia, which have been issuing 30-day permits at the border, while for others, daily sirens and underground bunkers are slowly becoming part of your daily routine.
A fifth-year student at Lviv National Medical University said he has temporarily settled with his friends in Hungary, from where he has been attending online classes. “There are hardly any students who are thinking of returning to India now. After everything we’ve been through in the last seven months, we just want to complete our degrees in Ukraine. We came back just a month ago after convincing our parents and spending at least one lakh; we can’t go back now,” he said.
On Tuesday, India issued its second advisory in a week asking its citizens to “leave Ukraine by all available means”. In the previous warning, issued on October 19, New Delhi had warned its citizens against traveling to Ukraine and asked students returning to the country to leave due to the “deteriorating security situation”.
About seven months ago, in March, the war between Russia and Ukraine forced nearly 20,000 Indian students studying medicine in Ukraine to return home. Since September, around 1,000 students who fled the war have returned to Ukraine to resume their studies.
The latest set of warnings comes amid escalating hostilities (airstrikes and missile strikes now targeting the relatively safer cities of Lviv and Ternopil in western Ukraine) and claims of Russia who suspected that Ukraine planned to use the so-called “dirty bomb”. “Linked to nuclear material. With Western countries rejecting Russia’s allegation as a pretext to escalate the eight-month-old war, many fear the worst is likely yet to be over.
But as the fifth-grader from Lviv said, for Indians in Ukraine, the situation doesn’t give them much of a choice. “We don’t get entry to India and countries like Hungary, Poland, Georgia and Russia where they offer us transfers are much more expensive than Ukraine. We can’t afford to pay our fee again. The government of India is well aware that we have no choice but to stay in Ukraine… And even if we were to return to India, would our parents let us return to Ukraine? Not at all. So what choice do we have? Most of the students who have decided to stay in Ukraine are in their fifth or sixth year. It is not easy to start from scratch,” he said.
Anurag Krishna, a fourth-year student at Vinnytsya National Medical University, said he has no plans to return to India. “We have to watch for a while. I might go to a safe place if the situation worsens. But we are currently attending our classes and concentrating on completing our studies. The Indian authorities know very well that we really have no other option.” .
Kritee Suman, a fourth-year student at Ivano-Frankivsk Medical University who is from Bihar, said, “What choice do we have? To go back to India and then back to Ukraine? It’s easier said than done. We could temporarily move to Hungary or Romania if the situation worsens in Ivano [western Ukraine]but for now, it’s pretty good here.”
Meanwhile, despite the MEA’s warnings, students say many of their friends have returned to Ukraine. “Twelve students arrived in Kviv on Tuesday, a day after Diwali. Now that the festivities are over, more are expected to arrive,” said one student.
Onkar Dhale, 19, a second-year student at Ukraine’s Bukovina State Medical University, is due to leave his home in Ahmednagar district for medical school on November 4. He plans to fly Mumbai-Istanbul and from there to Moldova, from where he will take a flight. go to Chernivtski, Ukraine by bus or taxi.
Dhale says he is aware of the Centre’s advice but is not changing his plans. “The government has left us no other option. They can’t give us admission in universities here and they say they won’t recognize our degrees if we don’t complete 54 months of offline classes. My parents have already spent thousands. Thirteen students from our group have already arrived,” he said.