Return to War Zone to Finish Degree or be Expelled, Students Who Fled Ukraine are told

International medical students at a Ukrainian university have been told they will be expelled if they do not return to the war-torn country to take an exam, shattering their dreams of one day becoming a doctor.Overseas students enrolled at Sumy State University in eastern Ukraine received a message from the university on Thursday saying it was preparing to expel them.

The announcement came after Ukrainian universities informed final-year medical students who are third-country nationals – or non-EU – in late February that they must return to Ukraine to undertake an exam, called Krok2 , on 14 March or they will not receive their diplomas.

But students have refused to go back, saying it is dangerous and against official advice in their countries. They have pleaded with the university to move the exam online or to relocate it to a test centre outside of Ukraine. An online petition launched on Thursday urging education officials to cancel the exam has received more than 35,000 signatures within 24 hours.But students say their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Ajay*, 25, from Himachal in northern India, was at a temple with his parents praying for good news when he received the message about expulsion from the university. “My mother and father were with me and we were crying,” he said.“We spent so much money for this. I am the only son, so they had big dreams for me.”

Without his diploma, Ajay said he will not be able to take the foreign medical graduates examination in India in order to practice medicine in the country. “I don’t know what is going on in their minds,” he said of the Ukrainian education system. “No one wants to listen to us. We are just floating aimlessly.”

Ajay was among the thousands of foreign students who fled Ukraine last year in the outbreak of the war. Before the conflict, Ukraine hosted more than 76,000 foreign students, according to the Ukrainian State Centre for International Education.

Scores of black and Asian students reported experiencing racism at the border in Ukraine as they tried to flee, with some being denied entry to neighbouring countries or told to move aside to prioritise native Ukrainians.

Nigerian student Amara*, 22, a medical student at Sumy State University, fled to Poland, where she received temporary residency. Like Ajay, she finished her six-year medical degree in December and had been awaiting news from the university on what will happen with the Krok 2 exam, believing it would be moved online or cancelled, as it had been last year.

She said students were being made to sign a consent form that states they are responsible for their own safety and life during their stay in Ukraine.“It was a shock. We didn’t expect to be told to return to a war zone,” Amara said, speaking from Opole in southern Poland.

“The response from uni was ‘it’s not our problem, it’s the ministry of education, take it up with them’.“I don’t want to go because I’m not sure if I’m going to come back alive.“It’s very dangerous. Nobody should be forced to go back there to risk their lives for a paper.”

Amara said she is worried that if she goes back to Ukraine for the exam then she will lose her temporary residency in Poland. With no flights to Ukraine, she would have to travel 16 hours by train to reach Kyiv, where the exam is scheduled. Both Ajay and Amara have paid their tuition and accommodation fees in full, about £20,000, and have spent hundreds more on flights to and from Ukraine during their years of study. Without their diplomas, their lives have been put on hold, and an expulsion would make it harder for them to enrol at another university to continue studying.

“I was hoping to do my masters in the UK,” Amara said. “It’s so ridiculous. At this point we are just tired of fighting the whole thing. We can’t shout or even cry anymore.”Ajay added: “It’s a joke. We spent six years of our lives for this.”A Ukrainian lawyer confirmed to i that the Ministry of Education in Ukraine is responsible for changes to the Krok 2 exams. Sumy State University and the Ukrainian Ministry of Education did not respond to a request for comment when contacted b

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