The Telegraph
Wednesday , March 5 , 2014
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Crimea’s Indian students on edge

New Delhi, March 4: Nivedita Ghose had never imagined that studying to battle diseases could place her in the theatre of operations where the tensest geopolitical conflict between Russia and the US since the end of the Cold War is unfolding.

Since Friday, the student at Ukraine’s Crimea State Medical University in Simferopol has put aside her textbooks, keeping track of the frenzied evacuation plans at the varsity as Russian troops occupy the city.

“As a medical student, you’re not scared of blood,” Ghose said today over phone. “But when you go abroad to study, you don’t imagine that you’ll get caught up in a war-like situation. This is a lot scarier than surgery.”

Nearly 700 Indian medical students at the Crimea State Medical University are caught in the heartland of the conflict over Ukraine. Over 5,000 Indian medical students are enrolled at multiple Ukrainian universities in Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa and Lugansk, apart from Simferopol attracted by even lower fees than offered by Chinese medical schools.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to ease fears today by saying that the use of military force would be “the last resort, absolutely the last”. But tension remained high on the ground with Russian forces firing warning shots. ( )

No Indian has been hurt yet in the violence that has broken out in Kiev, Kharkiv and the Crimean peninsula. But the Indian embassy in Kiev is putting together an emergency evacuation plan that will be activated if the conflict escalates, Indian officials said.

“We’re preparing for the possibility of a military confrontation and the need to have a plan to evacuate every Indian if military clashes are imminent,” a senior official said. “It’s volatile and I don’t think anyone can predict whether things will get better anytime soon.”

Officials at the Indian mission under the ambassador to Kiev, Rajiv Chander, are speaking daily to all universities where Indian students are studying, community groups and education agents.

The embassy has convinced all Ukrainian universities to allow Indian students to return home for a month. Nearly 50 Indian students have flown back to India since Friday.

On Tuesday, the embassy set up an online registration system advising Indians staying back in Ukraine to inform the mission of their location and contact details.

The mission is also preparing transportation from key cities such as Simferopol to Kharkiv Ukraine’s second-largest city with an international airport. Russian troops have taken control of Simferopol airport.

“We’re trying to constantly communicate with parents of students to try and assuage their concerns,” said Amreek Singh Dhillon, a Lugansk-based education agent and the Crimea State Medical University’s top liaison officer with Indian students. “There’s a sense of panic among many parents,” Dhillon told The Telegraph over the phone.

But India’s emergency preparations are complicated by the absence of any single clear authority controlling governance in Ukraine. The mission is speaking with the new interim government in Kiev and is also communicating with provincial governments.

While the federal interim government in Kiev which has placed Ukrainian troops on standby to challenge Russia’s intervention controls Kiev and Lugansk, Simferopol and the rest of Crimea is today under the control of pro-Russia groups. Kharkiv has witnessed clashes.

“Coordinating with two parties that are not talking to each other is difficult,” the senior official said. “And it will only get worse if the conflict escalates.”

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