Having survived the academic rigours of cutthroat rankings, competitions, financial constraints, for many Indian students in Ukraine, it has now come down to a fight for survival.
"We are very stressed. It is impossible for us to travel to the west border of Ukraine to cross over to neighbouring countries like Romania. It's around 2,000 km away from us. We can't even go to a nearby supermarket, let alone travel to the western border. We can hear bombing, shelling throughout the day. We've not even been told how to move," Lakshmy, a student at the Kharkiv National Medical University, told NDTV.
Lakshmy has been sheltering in a makeshift bunker in the basement of a building near their private hostel along with other students of the same university.
"All we know is we have to stay in these bunkers. We don't know how long we can survive like this. Food, water everything is running out. We are eating bananas and biscuits. With the first explosion itself, we lost all Wi-Fi connectivity. Now, we are talking to our families with the internet through our SIM cards. Who knows how long this will last?" Nandan, a third-year student living in Kharkiv, told NDTV.
These video calls of students holed up in bunkers across Ukraine, for now, are a huge solace for helpless and tensed parents back home like Rafeeq Mohammad and his wife Saji Begum in Thiruvananthapuram.
"My son Aashiq was supposed to take the KROK exam. That is one of the very important exams for them in June. That was one consideration for them to stay back. The situation literally worsened suddenly in 3-4 days. Subsequently, whenever we searched, most flights were full, irrespective of the rate. Wherever there was availability, it was beyond Rs 70,000," Rafeeq Mohammad, a retired Air Force serviceman said.
Their son Aashiq is among some 18,000 students from India who are studying in Ukraine.
"Aashiq is good at studies but missed out for a few ranks. He wasn't interested to repeat his attempt. He had friends in Ukraine. So that's how he decided to study there. In Kerala, for private universities, Rs 5 lakh fees have to be submitted annually. In Ukraine, we can submit semester wise. It comes to around Rs 1.8 lakh for six months," Aashiq's mother Saji Begum, a teacher told NDTV.
In India, four-year private medical education would cost Rs 6 to 10 lakh per year and has to be paid in one go. While in Ukraine, it would be less than Rs 4 lakh annually and it can be paid in instalments at the beginning of each semester. Medical universities in Ukraine are also well-recognised in several countries, including in Europe. This is why many Indian students opt for getting degrees in a land so far away - a choice that has now thrown up unforeseen costs for many.
Miles away from Kerala, Santosh Goel tries to hide her tears in Haryana, as she speaks to her daughter Priyanka, a fourth-year medical student in Ukraine. "No, no I am not crying, my child," she is heard saying.
Her daughter Priyanka was booked to return to India on February 26 and now everything seems uncertain.
"Medical education is expensive in Haryana. There are fewer seats in medical colleges here and where the seats were available, the fee was very high. Hence, we sent our daughter abroad to study. And now, we are left in tears," Santosh said.
(With inputs from Mohammad Ghazali)