The latest victims of the unending revolution—and counter-revolutions—in Ukraine aren’t Ukrainian or Russian or Tartars.
They’re medical students from India.
Over the past week, the Indian embassy in Kiev has been coordinating the evacuation (pdf) of about 1,000 Indian medical students from Lugansk, a city in eastern Ukraine that has seen fierce clashes between government troops and separatists.
There are between 3,000 and 5,000 Indian medical students in Ukraine alone, according to educational consultants who help arrange their admissions and other paperwork for a fee. They are part of an increasing group of foreign medical graduates worldwide. In the United States, for instance, about a quarter of all practicing physicians are graduates of international medical schools. And an estimated 9,000 Indians leave the country every year to study medicine abroad, with China, Russia, and Ukraine among the top destinations.
Many come from middle-class households in India’s southern states, seeking an affordable medical education. Getting into the subcontinent’s government-run medical schools is very hard (admissions rate at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, for example, is 8%, and much lower if you factor in set-aside programs). Private colleges, meanwhile, are prohibitively expensive.
“In India, a medical degree in private (institutions) will be about 80 lakh rupees (about $135,000). In Ukraine, it costs 30 lakh rupees (about $50,600),” for a six year degree, says Pradeep Deepu of admissions adviser Karmel Educational Consultancy in Bangalore.
Last year, Karmel sent about 200 Indian students to medical schools in Ukrainian cities such as Lugansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv. For each applicant, it charged a fee of 25,000 rupees ($422).
Fifteen years ago, Hardeep Singh first saw a trickle of Indian students arriving in Ukraine. There had been some student exchange programs between India and the then USSR, but after Ukraine’s independence in 1991, more Indians started arriving to study engineering, among other things.
Now, Singh runs the BobTrade Education Group, which brings about 1,000 Indian students to Ukrainian universities every year. It represents 10 medical schools in the country, according to the company website, including one in Crimea, the peninsular region recently annexed by Russia.
“The situation is under control here, except for Lugansk and Donetsk,” Singh told Quartz in a telephone interview from Ukraine. “We are sitting here to keep everybody calm.”
Universities in the east have ended their semester early, both Singh and Deepu confirmed, and the Indian embassy has made arrangements for students without travel plans to remain in Kiev for the moment.
But there’s uncertainty about what happens next. Some students, such as those in Crimea, are transferring to universities in Ukraine’s calmer west, and more might follow unless the fighting subsides.
With the admissions process starting next month, the number of prospective applicants will depend on who gains, and retains, control of these universities.
The Medical Council of India, which issues doctors with their licenses, currently recognizes only select medical schools in Ukraine. If they move out of Ukrainian administration, like Crimea, students graduating may not qualify to practice in India.
Families back home in India are inevitably concerned about safety, given the recent violence, but Deepu allayed fears.
“Security is OK,” he says. “The problem is going on since September, but no Indian student has got into trouble.”
Safe perhaps but still insecure: Nobody yet knows the fate of all the money paid in tuition—or of the consultants priming the next class.