With foreign students out, Russia pummels Ukraine

A view shows a convoy of pro-Russian troops during Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine on March 12, 2022.

A view shows a convoy of pro-Russian troops during Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine on March 12, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Till at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ukraine hosted nearly 80,000 foreign students drawn mostly from the developing countries. India alone contributed nearly 25% (the largest) of the total number of the foreign students in Ukraine, who were located in the major industrial and educational centres of the country. But the all-out bombing of Kharkiv, Mariupol and Sumy, and the expansion of missile attacks into the western city of Lviv, shows that Ukraine had a shield of safety as long as foreign students resided there, and with the exit of these international citizens, the country is now far more vulnerable to an all-out attack on its biggest population centres, including capital Kyiv.

The foreign students in Ukraine's well regarded medical universities came from countries like Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and other parts of the developing world that had connections with the country stretching back to the Soviet era. Out of the total number of students, 6,000 came from China. Ukraine's education was affordable and was reputed for its high standards. It also assured a safe environment for students, which was seen during the pandemic when the students refused to return home and continued with their studies on campuses. Apart from medicine, Ukraine was also known for high quality engineering and liberal studies courses. The educational centres of Ukraine emerged as an important source of revenue for the country over the last three post-Soviet decades. But as the war began, these foreign students also became a reason for forcing Russia to go slow with its bombing of the weaker neighbour.

The biggest sign of Ukraine’s additional weakness emerged on March 8 when nearly 700 Indian students were shifted from Sumy near the Russian border in the northeast Ukraine. Russian sensitivity to Indian concerns about the safety of the students was visible in the statements from Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech blamed the Ukrainian authorities for holding the students as “human shields” at a railway station in Kharkiv, where a student from Karnataka had earlier died in a shooting incident. Moscow later assured the provision of an exit corridor through Russian territories and even offered to fly the students back to India. However, India maintained a neutral stance and conducted the evacuation through humanitarian corridors guaranteed by both the Ukrainian and Russian sides.

Within hours of the evacuation, Sumy was bombed, which led to the killing of 21 citizens including two children. Indian students were shifted early in the morning and were driven to the border with Poland on the western side of the country. That also brought the curtains down on Operation Ganga, the government-funded evacuation plan for Indians stuck in Ukraine. As India heaved a sigh of relief, danger escalated back in Ukraine.

Apart from the renewed bombing of Sumy, shelling also increased in Mariupol and Kharkiv, both of which have received some of the heaviest attacks from the Russian side over the past few days. Sunday's bombing of Lviv near the Poland border has come as a surprise as the historic city had so far remained free of Russian military attention. As the Russian military attack becomes all-encompassing for Ukraine, it appears that the presence of the students for nearly a fortnight provided Ukraine with a golden opportunity to reach an understanding with Russia, which unfortunately remained beyond reach for Kyiv.

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2022 4:51:52 am |