'The exam was stopped 7 times': Foreign students angry at being forced to return to Ukraine for test

African residents in Ukraine wait at the platform inside Lviv railway station, Feb. 27, 2022, in Lviv, west Ukraine.
African residents in Ukraine wait at the platform inside Lviv railway station, Feb. 27, 2022, in Lviv, west Ukraine.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
By Lorenzo Di Stasi

This is on top of foreign students who fled the war not being granted the same support from European countries as their Ukrainian peers.

Foreign students from African and Asian countries who fled Ukraine when Russia started its illegal invasion have complained they were forced to return to the war-torn country to take key exams.

On 14 March, some of the 76,000 foreign students studying medicine in Ukraine before the war broke out were back in the country to take the final licensing Krok 2 exam in order to secure their diplomas.

Before travelling to the country they were told by the Kyiv Medical University that they were "responsible for their own safety and life" despite the fact that forgoing the trip would endanger years of studies and related expenses. 

"We had to interrupt the exam seven times because of missile alarms. The room was cold and there was almost no light. The exam lasted from 9:00 to 16:00 because of different interruptions and all the 50 people who took the exam with me failed it," S., a Donetsk University medical student from Yemen who took the test in Kyiv, told Euronews.

"I have to retake it without knowing what the situation will be in one year," S. added, requesting anonymity.

According to the Testing Board of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, students who failed to pass their Krok 2 exam can retake it within three years, although they have to wait at least a year. This means they have to retake their last year and therefore pay the annual tuition fee.

Students with whom Euronews has gotten in contact claimed that their fellows from Zaporizhzhia got the diploma without doing the final exam. 

Contacted by telephone, Zaporizhzhia University didn't provide an explanation about the decision to issue diplomas without an exam and instead referred Euronews to the Ministry of Health. A spokesperson for the Testing Board of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health meanwhile told Euronews that the Zaporizhzhia State Medical and Pharmaceutical University has exclusive responsibility over the issuance of diplomas to students.

'We are totally drained'

The ordeal comes on top of an often precarious situation in their current host countries compared to their Ukrainian peers.

"Our position is unique to the Ukrainians we fled the war with. Although we fled the same war we have been told repeatedly when attempting to apply for scholarships and aid that these measures are only for Ukrainians," Korrine, a medical student originally from Zimbabwe who fled the central city of Dnipro for the UK, told Euronews.

The European Union triggered its Temporary Protection Directive when millions of refugees from Ukraine crossed the border into member states to seek refuge. This allows Ukrainians to bypass the traditional asylum system and secure the right to live, work, and study across the bloc. 

Non-Ukrainian students who also fled Russian troops and bombings were however denied equal support to access European Universities. This has left many of them unable to continue their studies and with no clear path forward.

The Netherlands became one of the most popular European destinations for these students.

Michael, a Ghanaian citizen in his 4th year of medicine at Sumy University, decided to study remotely from the small south-eastern Dutch city of Venray but says it is not a sustainable solution.

"A lot of things come into play emotionally, mentally and physically. We are totally drained. If I apply for a school here I have to start all over again," he told Euronews.

"It's very expensive and they don't have any subsidy for us, but just for Ukrainians. We [African refugees] are totally out of the picture."

'Designated certification testing centres'

For many foreign students like Michael, the choice to move to Ukraine years before the war was mainly due to the low yearly tuition fees: $4,300 (€3,900) per academic year at the Ukrainian Sumy University compared to €6,000-€15,000 per year for a Bachelor's degree or between €8,000 and €20,000 per year for a Master's degree in the Netherlands.

Utrecht and Groningen universities offer "inclusion" or "guest students" programmes for students affiliated with Ukrainian universities who study remotely. This allows them to use the facilities but not the right to transfer their years of studies already completed in the country.

Foreign students who have already completed their studies, but didn't manage to take the Krok 2 exam, see their life in limbo. 

"I wanted to become a gynaecologist in the future because a lot of women still don't know so much about women's bodies, especially during pregnancy. So I really want to see how I can help," Amara, a medical student from Nigeria currently living in Poland, told Euronews. 

She completed her studies four months ago at Sumy University and is now taking online classes while waiting for the next opportunity to retake the exam: "Ukrainian authorities cannot compensate for the time that we've lost doing nothing," she added. 

After a lot of protests by students, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health issued a press release on March 16 in which it stated that a draft resolution will be presented to the Cabinet of Ministers to allow students outside if Ukraine to "be able to take the exams at designated certification testing centres."

"Or in case they are willing to return to Ukraine, they may take the exams at domestic higher education institutions," the official statement added.

A remote exam option was not mentioned as a potential solution and students are now still waiting to know when and where they will be able to take the exam.

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