A lot Southeast Asian cities have districts with areas of compact settlement for Hindus. No wonder these places are called Little India. There is a Chinatown for Chinese people as well. European cities can also have such areas, however, they look more up-to-date because the resettlement took place later. In Ukraine, only Romani communities have areas of compact settlement.
We’ve decided to talk about people who come to Ukraine to receive an education. Why do students from India come to study to Ukraine and how does Ukraine accept them? What can Uzhhorod- the smallest oblast center- can offer to the students from the second most populated country in the world?
According to the information of Ukrainian State Center for International Education (USCIE), there are 64000 foreign students in Ukraine which came from 148 countries of the world. 6145 of them are Hindus. So each tenth foreign student in Ukraine comes from India. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are the second largest providers of students.
The director of USCIE, Olena Shapovalova, claims that India with its 1.3 billion population, half of which consists of people younger than 21, has an enormous amount of potential students. Only Chinese students studying abroad prevail over Indian students. Yet it’s not that easy to come to Ukraine to receive an education. India is not a country of migration risk, nevertheless, the process of Ukrainian visa receiving is very complicated and expensive for Hindus.
Most Hindu students study in 5 Ukrainian colleges: Kharkiv National Medical University, V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, O.O. Bogomolets National Medical University, Zaporizhia National Medical University, and Uzhhorod National University. The last one obtained the license for foreign students’ education in 2016 only. Unlike in million-plus cities, like Kharkiv, Kyiv or Zaporizhia- it’s easy to spot Hindu students in a little Uzhhorod and it’s easier to contact them. That is why we chose Uzhorod to get to know about the mundane life of Hindu students in Ukraine.
We came to visit Hari to see the life of an average Hindu in Ukraine. Hari hires his apartment. He says it’s difficult for a foreigner to take the apartment for a lease: foreigners are expected to pay more.
– Uzhhorod is a very calm town. I can come home and do what I need to do. It’s more difficult in India because of noise and cars. It’s quiet and calm here. I can even hear birds singing. Uzhhorod is a little town, and people here are nice. It’s easy to live here and to communicate with others, I have a lot of Ukrainian friends here. After the Eastern Ukraine, it’s more comfortable for me here because people are more companionable and it’s closer to Europe. I moved here from Luhansk. People there are different. They become aggressive even when they hear us speaking English. When I was a first year student I couldn’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, I only knew “Здравствуйте” (Hello) and “Спасибо” (Thank you”).
I started shooting in India. I was shooting for a local paper for one year and worked in the model agency for one more year.
– I am studying Medicine, and I do think after a couple of years that Medicine and Photography combine really well. I work as a fashion photographer or a street photographer. I took a lot of black-and-white pictures already. People here know me as a Hindu guy who takes black-and-white photos.
Now I have a lot of work, while the first year was really hard. People didn't know me and I didn't know anyone here. I had to go to places and persuade people that I can work well.
The community of foreign students in Uzhhorod is not that big, only 300-400 foreigners, Hindus, Sri Lankians, Africans, the representatives of 15-20 countries in general.
– There is a little café for those who want to try Hindu cuisine and for Hindus who miss home. I make food at home. I like Ukrainian food as well but I’m a vegetarian and it’s difficult to buy good fruits and vegetables in winter here. As for the seasoning, sometimes I can find necessary seasonings at the flea market near Luxor Plaza [Koryatovych St.-editor’s note] in summer. In winter seasonings are either too expensive or they are absent. Each time I go to India I come back to Ukraine with the full bag of seasonings.
Hari says that one of his friends was studying in Luhansk for 6 years and did not get any documents as a result because of military conflict. That is why he studies in Uzhhorod now on the third course. He had to start from the very beginning. Students pay for education themselves or families help them.
— The government doesn’t support us. India is overpopulated and the government cannot afford to pay any scholarships. In most cases, parents help students. My work helps me to pay for my expenses. My parents only pay for the education.
Answering the question “What would you recommend to visit in Uzhhorod?” Hari says:
— I dream to bring my whole family here and show the bank of the river Uzh. I like walking, shooting nice people and attractive places. There are a lot of cool places outside Uzhhorod. I go to the mountains often. There are a lot of rivers and forests there. I like Pylypets mountain, the forest near Mukacheve, Palanok castle in Mukacheve.
Hari is showing the video which he was shooting on Pylypets mountain for a Hindu singer who studies with him.
Hari is from the South of India, and his home is located right in front of the ocean. He says that he does not worry about visiting home so rarely.
– I was living near the ocean for a long time, well, now I live near mountains. This is a different experience. I was in the Himalayas in Inida where it’s very cold as well that is why I got used to such a climate.
Hari felt intolerance in Luhansk like most Hindu students. People treat him much better here in Uzhhorod.
– There are good and bad people in every country. If I choose good people and ignore bad people, I will be happy. There are people in India who won’t treat you well but most people will treat you normally. I feel less intolerance here in Ukraine now. Especially in Uzhhorod. In Luhansk 60% of people were negative-minded, and the rest 40% of people were positive-minded or neutral. Here there are only 10% of negative-minded people. Some people just don’t like another skin color. These are older people mostly. Young generation here doesn’t have complexes and problems with English. They start studying foreign languages and know much more. And that’s good because English is necessary for work. Being descendants of the former British colony, we also have to study English. It’s easier to travel when you know languages.
– Travelling Europe you can meet a lot of people of color. Uzhhorod is close to Europe, it’s getting normal here. But I remember when I first came to Uzhhorod people looked at me as if I was an alien. There were not many foreigners at that time. Slovaks, Hungarians lived here but they aren’t very different from Ukrainians. People of color were rare. Now it’s more common.
Hari tells that there are more than 30 official languages in India. Every region has its own official language. Hari knows eight languages four of which are Hindu. He was living in Dubai so he knows Arabic as well. He is trying to speak Ukrainian with us.
For an average Indian family medical college in India costs too much- $10-15.000 annually. In Ukraine, a foreign student can study for $2,500 annually. The contrast is obvious that is why many Hindu parents encourage their children to study abroad. Hindu students choose among China, the Philippines, Nepal, Latvia, Russia, Georgia, Kirgizia, and Ukraine. Students emphasize the fact that Ukraine has one prerogative: geographical location. It is close to Central and Western Europe and it’s far from India. Farther from home means higher chances to become responsible and independent.
It’s not only prestigious but also profitable to be a doctor in India. The average salary of a Hindu doctor is $2.000 -5.000 a month depending on a specialty. In Ukraine, doctors earn much less in the governmental sector. After graduation Hindu students have to pass the exam in the homeland and to obtain doctor’s license according to the results of this exam. They can start working only after passing this exam.
Ajmal Abdul Majid
Ajmal tells us that after school graduation he wanted to become a doctor so much but couldn’t make it in India. The education in India cost too much and the contest was very serious that is why his parents sent him to Ukraine.
Charmi met the professor from Uzhhorod National University during one of such seminars and he persuaded her to enter here. Foreign students consider positive reviews as much as a low price for education. Students often tell that they came to Uzhhorod because their older friends and relatives study here. They say that the level of instruction is high and the atmosphere is welcoming.
There are a lot of agencies that offer support in admission to foreign colleges that can also be in Ukraine. They conduct special seminars to provide future students with all the necessary information.
Charmi says that she always dreamt of being a doctor because she knows a lot about ailments and body processes. She is interested in the way human organism works. She wants to help ill people:
– In India, people respect you if you are a doctor. You have bright future until the end of life because you can save human lives and receive a blessing for that. The demand for doctors is great, the population in the country is growing quickly.
Shikku says that according to one prognosis the population in India can double during the next 40 years. The demand for competent doctors will also rise correspondingly:
– There must be at least one doctor for 100 of people. That is why young specialists will always have work. This new Medicine boom replaced the IT boom. 5-6 years ago all parents wanted their children to be programmers.
Hindu students plan to come back to India because they miss their families who are waiting for them. They see them only a couple of times a year. Adjmal admits:
– Yeah, I am planning to get back to India but it doesn’t mean that I don’t like Ukraine. I just want to work in my native country.
Some Hindus consider the opportunity to work in Ukraine or in any other country before going back to India.
There are several spots in Uzhhorod which are connected to India. It’s a place with Hindu doner kebab and Hindu dining-room for students who eat here from time-to-time. There is a place for Buddhists and Krishnaites. They serve Hindu food for free there. Students say that they love the atmosphere of these places: it reminds them homeland because of Hindu traditions. However, Ukrainian “Hindu” food is far from being really Hindu. Charmi tells:
– For instance, they serve ginger water here in a café but we don’t drink ginger water during supper or dinner. The food is great in general, yet some real Hindu taste is missing. I think it’s more like the mix of Ukrainian and Hindu tastes.
Students advise to taste real Hindu tea masala in the place called “Eat Me Cafe”:
– When I drink it, I feel like I am on some street in India. They manage to do the right tea with honey and all necessary seasoning.
Like Hari, Charmi doesn’t eat meat and feels sorry for the lack of vegetarian places in Uzhhorod. The exception is one vegetarian eco-cafe called “Yasne Sonechko”.
Shikku was studying for three years in Luhansk and moved to Uzhorod in 2014. He admits that he was really scared for his education.
– We’ve heard about Maidan in December 2013 and had a range of troubles after those events but the university (Luhansk National Medical University) was working up to June 2014. There were troubles with banks and we couldn’t receive any cash. We heard some explosions near the city in the end of May. We thought we could finish that academic year, go back to India for summer holidays and return in September because it was over in Luhansk. And then the ambassador of India came to the university and warned us: we had to pack things and leave the city in 72 hours. The embassy of India paid for the railway tickets for all the foreign students. We got to Kyiv and were living in a hotel for some time.
Before the events in Crimea Milap went to Simferopol and spent a month there getting ready for exams.
– It was cool, the Black Sea was so near but then Crimea became a part of Russia and I couldn’t enter the university there. That is why I came here.
In 2014 Hindu students from Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea were relocated to Ternopil, Uzhhorod, Lviv and other cities in Ukraine.
Shikku says that after three years spent in Luhansk university it was difficult to imagine relocation to any other city in Ukraine. Now he understands that this relocation is the best thing that could happen to him and other Hindu students.
– We receive a better education here, live in better conditions; we are surrounded by cool people. Most our teachers have European education and have a good command of English.
The boy confesses that Luhansk teachers loved American dollars a lot:
– They told that in our faces. It’s madness! Of course, not all the teachers did that, but there were some really problematic people.
Ajmal moved to Uzhhorod after three years spent in Luhansk. He says that the attitude to Hindu students here is better compared to Luhansk.
– Older people are especially nice to us: they ask often about our accommodation and education here. They also ask about old Bollywood actors and Indira Handi. The USSR was on friendly terms with Inida that is why they remember so much probably. I don’t remember such things in Luhansk.
Hindus also noticed one peculiarity of Uzhorod- Romani community. Ajal shares with his observations:
– It may sound strange but Romani think that we are related to them. Maybe because of the dark skin color. They even persuaded local people in that. People though that we were Romani and could spread some contagious diseases. We could notice that attitude in the public transport where people were irritated by our presence. One day the owner of the sauna refused us because of our skin color.
Aneri also has some negative experience of interaction with local people:
– Hinus are a new phenomenon for Uzhhorod that is why local people can demonstrate real racism. Sometimes drunkards haunt us because they think we are helpless here. The face of the shop assistant of the girl in a grocery store in front of our university speaks for itself. When we come in she might think: “Oh God, these Hindus are here again!” She is rude to us, she mocks us with other shop assistants. I am not mentioning unfriendly looks on the streets.
Students who came from Luhansk say that it was dangerous to walk the streets there because of the dark skin which provoked local people.
Shikku remembers that people refused to talk to him when he said “Здравствуйте!” (Good Afternoon!)
– I thought about speaking English to them. Here in Uzhhorod, I can even talk to old ladies.
Shikku thinks that such things can be explained by the low level of education in Luhansk. Or by the fact that Luhansk is populated by people of one nation mostly. Uzhhorod, on the contrary, welcomes Slovaks, Hungarians, Polish, Ukrainians. The guy adds:
– Maybe people in Uzhhorod understand that Hindu students are good for the city because we basically invest money in their region paying for education and services, buying goods.
Hindu students noticed that people in Ukraine work a lot, especially women. In India, there are no so many working women. Ukrainians are also more punctual. It's clean in the cities, and people are more disciplined.
India is special because of its diversity: it’s the county of many languages, cultures, and religions. Regions of Ukraine look more or less homonymic compared to India. Shikku admits:
– India and Ukraine are totally different countries. When you see a new person in India, you come up to talk even if you don’t know him or her. Some people also came to us to introduce themselves but it was not often.
* Ukrainian State Center for International Education (UNCIE) was created in 2003 by the Ministry of Education and Science for the promotion of Ukrainian education abroad and informational support of foreign students.