Israeli-Arab Students in Ukraine Must Choose: Risk Their Diplomas, or Stay?

Over 2,000 Arab students are studying in Ukraine, most of them in medical schools. With warnings of a pending Russian invasion, their next steps are unclear

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Hmad Fakher Alden, who is studying in Odessa, Ukraine.
Hmad Fakher Alden, who is studying in Odessa, Ukraine.

Arab Israeli students getting their academic degrees in Ukraine, as well as their families, are now facing a serious dilemma: Whether to follow the calls from Israel’s Foreign Ministry and leave the country immediately – and in doing so risk not finishing their degrees – or to remain, and possibly put their own lives at risk.

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Between 2,000 and 2,500 Arab students with Israeli citizenship are studying in Ukraine, most of them medical students. Some have just started their degrees; others are nearing graduation. The reports of a possible Russian invasion have now increased the pressure that these students' families have put on them to return to Israel, but many are not rushing home.

Mohammed Tarbia, an attorney from the northern city of Sakhnin, has a son and daughter who are studying medicine in Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine.“My son is in his sixth year, toward the end, and my daughter is in her fifth. I checked personally with the campus and was told that remote learning for those who leave the country is up to the political leadership to decide. We're trying to work on the matter with officials in Israel, but have not received an answer," he said.

Wasn Abed Alhai, a medical student in her fifth year in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Wasn Abed Alhai, a medical student in her fifth year in Kharkiv, said her university's management denied the students' request to switch to remote learning. In addition, “We're not getting updates from the university about the security situation.”

"The situation is making me anxious disrupting my studies," She added, "we're asking for transparency and consideration from the university. If the situation is as serious as the media is reporting, why not allow remote learning so we can come back to Israel?”

Thus far, Ukrainian universities have not issued any clear instructions on the matter, and anyone who leaves campus – and the country – at this point could miss classes, tests and other required work. “There is no guarantee that if we return to Israel, [the university] won’t take steps to punish us, or maybe demand we make things up that will delay getting our degree,” said Samer, a fifth-year medical student in Kharkiv.

Hmad Fakher Alden, a fifth year medical student in Odessa, said his university actually allows remote learning, but he still has not decided whether to return home to Israel or stay in Ukraine. He said that it is hard to demand answers from the university amid the uncertainty. "After all, they don’t know what will happen, either.”

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