International Students Had To Flee Ukraine

Accept refugees Ukraine flag by Matt Brown on Flikr

Discrimination vs Prioritisation

The attention of British media briefly flickered on students from Africa and India trying to get places on the exit trains from Ukraine. Were they discriminated against because of skin colour or because women with children were prioritised? That story vanished in the welter of other horrifying news from the war.

Many of these students were studying medicine or engineering. Ukraine is known for its excellent medical education, and has the fourth largest number of graduate and post-graduate specialisations in Europe. Some of the institutions teach in English as at Bogomolec, Uzhhorod, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv and Sumy. When the Russians invaded Sumy, on 24 February, over 500 international students were trapped there until 8 March, when most were able to take an evacuation train.

Students from India

Sadly, at Kharkiv, one fourth year Indian medical student, S G Naveen was killed in the shelling. He was from Chalagi village in Karnataka. The press in India has followed the plight of Indian students. These are the largest group (between 18 000 and 20 000) among some 77 986 – 84 146 foreign students in Ukraine in 2022. (University World News figure).

Indian students are attracted to Ukrainian Universities because the fees and housing costs are lower than in other European countries. And they can return to India for their internships. Competition for medical training in India is fierce and only one in every 16 applicants gets a place to study at the State institutions. The numerous private medical colleges have a poor reputation and are very expensive (50 lakhs* = £50 605 and higher). At Sumy, the undergraduate tuition fee is listed as £2 920 pa.

Online Teaching

Some Indian students were evacuated from Ukraine from 15 February in 31 flights arranged by the Indian government. Their Ukrainian teachers are continuing to teach them online, thanks to Elon Musk supplying satellite connectivity. These students respect the heroism of their Ukrainian teachers who have set up their computer screens while they shelter in basements, or even a washroom. Bombardment and shelling may be heard in the background. Their teachers look tense, but they continue with their courses and answering their students’ questions.

Other international students in Ukraine at the start of 2022 are from these countries according to University World News:

Morocco9 296
Nigeria6 802
China5 323
Turkmenistan4 392
Azerbaijan4 077
Turkey4 045

“Third Country” Students Not So Welcome

Students whose governments were not as quick as India in evacuating their nationals may face a harrowing time if they are stranded in Europe. The EU has been quick to welcome Ukrainian nationals who are given temporary residence permits for a year,  after the 90-day travel permit that was already open to Ukrainian tourists. But this does not apply to those from “third countries”.

They may be stranded in nearby countries, without their books, computers, or the ability to pay for food  and accommodation. Some, such as an African student of cybersecurity at Kharkiv who was interviewed by a reporter have been advised by their families that it is better to try to stay in Europe. The families who may have sacrificed much to pay the fees are reluctant to see their hopes of a highly qualified young person destroyed in this war.

Offers of assistance to ukrainians

There are many offers to assist Ukrainian students and academics from European Universities. The European University Association (EUA) has compiled a twitter list of offers. Many individual universities are offering placements to Ukrainian academics displaced by the invasion. Britain has been slow in this.

But on 5 April a group of politicians, lead by Andrew Rosindell (MP Romford), and including David Blunkett (former Labour education minister), Ed Davey (LibDem leader) and Tom Tugendhat (MP for Tonbridge) wrote a letter to Priti Patel which called for a temporary visa scheme to allow placements for students and academics from Ukraine.

They argue that “allowing young Ukrainians to continue studying subjects such as medicine and engineering will help them gain qualifications that will be vital in Ukraine when the war is over.” Rosindell talks of “giving Ukrainian academics a safe home.”

International Students Are Just as valuable

Admirable though this initiative is, it somewhat ignores the plight of the international students who were half way through their courses. They too are needed  back home, fully qualified, to develop their countries. Such is this UK government’s fear of increasing economic migration, the only response so far is to reiterate what Ukrainian students already registered at UK institutions have been offered: a three-year extension to their visas.

What about the cybernetics students shivering in Berlin, or the medical students in India still studying online with their Ukrainian lecturers? In my opinion, a “safe home” for Ukrainian academics would be to offer them a place to stay, to study and to continue to offer their courses to their international students.

Can Kent Make a Contribution?

Putin’s war must not be allowed to destroy the value that Ukraine was offering to the world in its excellent training facilities for health and engineering. What if the new medical faculty at the University of Kent could offer to host whole departments from the medical school of Sumy?  And residents of Canterbury their spare rooms for the students? It would be more value-enhancing to keep together these excellent departments, in exile, rather than let them be destroyed by dispersal.


* 1 Lakh = 100 000 Indian Rupees (INR)