Ukraine-returned medical students face another nightmare

Ashraf Engineer

September 3, 2022


Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer.

In February, I spoke to Raj Dhiman, one among the hundreds of medical students stranded in Ukraine when Russia invaded it. He was in Lviv, which was under the threat of imminent attack then, and he detailed how he and many others like him were receiving no help from the government. At the time he didn’t know how he would make it back home, but he eventually did via a long and arduous route through neighbouring European countries. I’ll post the link to that episode in the show notes. You might imagine that that was the end of his troubles. In fact, Raj and fellow medical students are in the midst of another nightmare. They can’t go back to Ukraine to resume their academic terms because of the war and they are not being admitted to Indian medical colleges to complete their courses either. Stranded and with nowhere to turn, their hopes rest now on the Supreme Court.


Like Raj, there were thousands of Indians studying medicine in the Ukraine. An estimated 16,000 had to flee the war-torn country in February and March. Having landed here with no prospects of finishing the remainder of their studies, they pinned their hopes on the government, hoping that it would allow them to join medical colleges in India. It was either that or risk their lives by returning to Ukraine despite the official directive to not do so. In any case, while their Ukrainian colleges are demanding fees for the upcoming terms, there is no assurance that their courses will be completed.

There is a precedent for the students’ demand. When COVID-19 struck, many Indian students in Chinese universities returned. At the time, the Union Government and the National Medical Commission allowed them to complete their courses in Indian universities. Presumably in accordance with that precedent, a committee on external affairs recommended to Parliament on August 3 that the students who had returned from Ukraine be allowed to complete their medical courses in India. The committee said in its report: “These students have been left in a quandary as they could not rejoin their courses physically or complete their internship or training in India.” It also noted that the Ministry of External Affairs had recommended to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to consider the case of the students as a one-time exemption.

At the time of recording this episode, the government hadn’t actually done that and the Supreme Court had stepped in, issuing notices to the Centre and the National Medical Commission on a petition filed by the students.

When the students returned from Ukraine, they had come together and urged the Ministry of External Affairs to ask Ukraine to get its universities to start online centres for their courses. Representations were made to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, among others, but nothing came of it.

Indian students go to countries like Ukraine because the medical courses are cheaper, there aren’t enough seats in India and there is the possibility of finding jobs or starting practices in Europe. Many of them take either education loans or borrow money from their personal networks. Now, banks and other debtors are asking for their money. Many of these students come from poor families, which have exhausted all their savings to put them through college.

Keeping all this in mind, a bench of justices Hemant Gupta and Vikram Nath sought a response from the Centre by September 5.

Senior advocate R Basant, appearing for the students, claimed 20,000 had been affected. “I cannot go back to Ukraine. It is a question of our lives. Some amount of nudging by the court can help these prospective doctors. They have invested their life into it,” he said, making his case.

The bench, while issuing the notice to the Centre, had a few harsh words for the students too. “We are not going to enter into the merits of these students. But the fact is that you chose Ukraine and chose not to be in India. These are 20,000 students. Does India have the capacity to accommodate them?” it asked. It also said that not everybody had left Ukraine. “You chose life over education,” the bench remarked.

Other lawyers for the students told the court that some states had agreed to accommodate the students. However, the Centre had issued an order asking them not to do so without its consent. The bench, meanwhile, pointed out that Kazakhstan had offered to accommodate the students, to which Basant responded: “The Centre has extraordinary powers to act in a situation like this. If other governments can do it, why not India?”

Indeed, this is an extraordinary situation. The government can certainly accommodate 20,000 students in colleges spread across the country. It has a duty towards them and, while it will put a strain on the academic infrastructure, India could certainly do with more doctors. This is an opportunity to beef up the medical community – something we sorely need and which the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored. At the end of the day, these students are Indians and why would we want to imperil their future? Where do they go and what do they do? A government committee itself has recommended that they be accommodated, and it should be done at the earliest. Hopefully, by the time this episode goes live, there would have been good news for them.

Thank you all for listening. Please visit for more columns and audio podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter at @AshrafEngineer and @AllIndiansCount. Search for the All Indians Matter page on Facebook. On Instagram, the handle is @AllIndiansMatter. Email me at Catch you again soon.