They wanted to be doctors, surgeons and super specialists. They dreamed of saving lives sitting in air-conditioned cabins with degrees hanging on the walls. These dreams and hopes are now very little left.
The war in Ukraine, now in its eighth month, has not only forced Indian students studying medicine there to return home but also ruined their careers, leaving some struggling with debt piles and desperate to settle for less prestigious courses. nursing
The Sunday Express spoke to four second-year students of the Bukovinian State Medical University in Chernivtsi, western Ukraine, who said they felt helpless after returning from Ukraine and had to switch streams and enroll in courses like BSc, BBA and Nursing.
Anand A, a resident of Kollam, Kerala, was in his second year at Bukovinian State Medical University when the war broke out, forcing him to flee the country along with other Indian students. Anand took a student loan of Rs 15 lakh, which was meant to cover six years of course fees in Ukraine.
“When I joined the university, I was asked to enroll for the semester starting December 2020, but my flight was canceled and I arrived three days late. They denied me admission and asked me to join next semester. It was not possible to return home, so I paid an additional 1.5 lakh rupees for the foundation course. By the time I returned to India, I had spent Rs 3 lakh on my bank loan and Rs 5-6 lakh from my parents’ savings on flights, food, accommodation, etc.,” said Anand.
In the last week of February, when war broke out between Ukraine and Russia, thousands of Indian students enrolled in medical colleges there were evacuated to India. First- and second-year students were advised to re-appear for NEET — the pre-medical exam for students aspiring for a career in medicine — and take fresh admissions, while senior-year students were allowed to continue with online classes. However, these students were later told that they would only be allowed to continue online classes for theoretical courses, not practical work, meaning they would have to return to Ukraine or relocate to another country to continue their medical studies.
“I was in a dilemma because my family didn’t have the money to send me to another country,” said Anand.
Anand’s father is retired and the only earning member of the family is his mother, a cancer survivor, who works as a nurse in Saudi Arabia to finance her son’s education.
“I had to mortgage my mother’s gold to clear the bank loan. I asked about another loan to study abroad, but the bank seemed reluctant because the loan amount was much higher than what I had borrowed to study in Ukraine,” he said.
Anand is now enrolled in a nursing college in Bangalore and hopes to get a job abroad.
“It was not easy for me. I am 21 years old. I had to repeat the second year and medical education takes a long time to complete. We also have to pass additional tests to be eligible to practice in India. I don’t want my mother to work so long. He depends on medicine to survive. Although he wanted me to be a doctor and not a nurse, I had no choice,” she said.
Like Anand, his classmate Melvin Shaji Jose, who hails from the municipal town of Changanassery in Kerala’s Kottayam district, also decided to enroll for a bachelor’s degree in nursing despite clearing NEET and qualifying for a seat in dentistry.
“I wanted to become a doctor and treat sick people. I don’t see myself cleaning teeth and doing root canals,” he said.
Before he moved to Ukraine, Melvin had cleared NEET twice, but with a score of 450, he was only eligible for admission to deemed private medical colleges where the cost of education exceeded the fees charged by Ukrainian universities.
As he did a lot of research before deciding to study medicine in Ukraine, Melvin added, “I was eligible for a deemed college in India but the fee was Rs 14 lakh a year. My entire cost of studying in Ukraine, including tickets, accommodation, would have been Rs 30 lakh. “
“Their quality of education is also good. But by the time I came back my family spent around Rs 9 lakh including visa and ticket charges, education fees etc. Although my batch of students moved to other countries, I didn’t like it because the standard of education is very low. When I checked the National Medical Council (of India) website, there were no students from these countries who had cleared the FMGE entrance in the last six years, which is mandatory for foreign medical graduates before they start practicing here,” said Melvin.
Santosh Yadav, a resident of Himmat Nagar in Nanded, held on to hope until he finally gave up and enrolled in a B.Sc course.
Santosh, whose parents are farmers, was stuck in Ukraine hoping to be evacuated after the war broke out. He is now struggling to repay the loan he took to study in Ukraine.
“It’s not just tuition fees. Due to the war we paid additional expenses including flights, visas, local accommodation, meals, personal expenses. Banks are not ready to discount it,” he said. When the war ended and the situation improved, Santosh chose not to return to Ukraine.
“Even if I decide to go back to Ukraine today, what is the guarantee that the situation will not get worse? Then the Indian government might say that we warned the students. I can’t take this risk. My family has no money. Also, I don’t have a family business to fall back on if my degree doesn’t work out. I needed a job to survive so I decided to give up my dream of becoming a doctor and enrolled in a B.Sc course. It’s okay, not all dreams come true,” he said.
For 20-year-old Satnam Singh, the choice of either returning to Ukraine or enrolling for a course in India was fraught with risks and challenges.
A resident of Marori village in Patiala and the only child in her family, Satnam recalls the trauma her mother went through when she was trapped in the war zone.
“In Chernivtsi, Ukraine, to support myself, I worked in a restaurant after class. When the war started, busloads of medical students arrived from Ternopil and said they had not eaten for two days. The owner of the restaurant, who was a Punjabi, told me that we must ‘serve’. I used to cook 10 kg of rice and dal for the students every day. A few days later, someone from my village called to say that my mother was so worried about me that she had not eaten for days. That’s when I decided to go back and became one of the last 50 students to be taken out of my college. My mother is so afraid of losing me that she won’t let me go back to Ukraine,” he said.
Satnam said his father, a farmer, took loans against his crops from private moneylenders for his education.
“My family has supported me a lot. I studied till 10th standard in a government school in my village where English was not taught. At college in Patiala, where my parents sent me to study science, I used to feel embarrassed in front of students who spoke fluent English. So, my father hired an English teacher. Later, I gave NEET exam twice but got low marks. My parents risked everything and chose to send me abroad to study medicine because they knew it was my dream. Now, for their sake, I have to take a tough decision. I decided to do a course on ‘Recreational Counseling’ in Canada. I have relatives in Canada who will help me. My dream is to become a doctor, but I have to be realistic. Between MBBS and life, I chose life,” said Satnam.