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The situation of medical students in Ukraine

Author: Yudai Kaneda

Hokkaido University School of Medicine

Editor: Chiharu Kawasaki

Teikyo University School of Medicine

This article was translated from Japanese MRIC published on March 23, 2022

I am Yudai Kaneda, a fourth-year medical student at Hokkaido University School of Medicine, currently studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In this article, I would like to share my thoughts on the situation in Russia and Ukraine.

Hokkaido has deep ties with Russia. It is the closest place to Russia in Japan, with Sakhalin Oblast (Sakhalin Island) only 42 km away from Cape Soya in the northernmost part of Japan. You can see Sakhalin Island across the Soya Strait on a clear day. There are also regular Wakkanai-Sakhalin ferry services. Before the pandemic, students could travel between Japan and Russia for about 30,000 yen round trip with the ferry. In 2018, about 9,000 Russians registered as foreign residents in Japan, of which 530 were in Hokkaido. This is the fourth largest number after Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Chiba. For this reason, signboards in Wakkanai are inscribed with Russian Cyrillic characters, and some public high schools offer Russian language classes.

Interaction between Hokkaido and Russia dates back to 1792, when Laxman came to Nemuro in search of trade with Japan. Later, Hakodate was opened as a port as Treaty of Amity and Commerce between Russia and Japan had been concluded in 1858 and began to function as a window to the outside world. Remnants of this period can still be seen today at the Orthodox Church, the former Russian Consulate, the Russian Cemetery, and other places in Hakodate. Other sites with close ties to Russia include the Cenotaph for the Indigirka in Sarufutsu Village, a famous driving route, and the Sutaruhin Baseball Stadium in Asahikawa City. The corridor connecting Asahikawa Medical University and the hospital is called the "Siberian Corridor" among students. The Japanese government insists that the Northern Territories are Japan's own territory, but Russia has effectively controlled the area since World War II until the year 2022. And the issue of the Northern Territories is also an unavoidable theme when we talk about the relationship between Russia and Japan. Although the Japanese government claims that the area belongs to Japan, Russia has continued to exercise effective control over the region from World War II until now in 2022. The Japanese government has asked its citizens not to visit the Northern Territories until the Northern Territories issue is resolved. An exception to this rule is the grave visit. 17,000 Japanese were living on the four northern islands at the time of occupation and were forced to leave. Only those 17,000 people can enter the islands to visit their family graves without a visa. However, the aging of these people is also becoming a problem. The residents put up signs to keep the issue from fading away. When you drive around Nakashibetsu, Nemuro, and other areas in Eastern Hokkaido, you can see signs everywhere that say, "Give back the Northern Territories!".

I believe that Hokkaido University, where I am studying in Japan, has also frequently interacted with Russian students and researchers and has established friendly relations with them. Before the pandemic of 2019, undergraduate exchange students could study long-term at Moscow State University and St. Petersburg University. Hokkaido University even has an office in Moscow. The Office also serves as the Japan Education Overseas Promotion Center and the Japan Representative Office of the Japan-Russia University Association. I also participated in the International Archeological Field School in Rebun Island when I was a first-year student. I spent three weeks on Rebun Island and studied the history of human ecology in the northern region. The students and researchers from Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States deepen engagements while conducting excavations at the Funadomari heritage in the island's northeastern part. And we discussed how historical and cultural heritage can be used as a resource for local communities and how we can preserve and utilize indigenous historical and cultural heritage from a global perspective, not limited to the Japanese archipelago. It is one of the courses I most recommend to first-year students at Hokkaido University. (It seems that sophomores and above can also take this course.)

Japan and Russia are "neighbors" and have territorial disputes. Russia is currently at war with its neighbor, Ukraine, which is not just someone else's business to those of us living in Japan.

The distance between Edinburgh, where I live, and Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is only about the distance between Sapporo and Naha. However, since I live a peaceful life here, the tragic situation I see on the news makes me feel reluctant to believe that this is the real thing happening in the world. I have both Russian and Ukrainian friends in Edinburgh. The reaction of my Russian friends is split between those who say they are sorry of President Putin doing this shit and those who say it is definitely NATO's fault. War, which is the act of using force to destroy the daily lives of people living there for no reason, is the opposite of the values of my future profession as a "doctor," which aims to save lives. Honestly, I cannot accept the latter opinion blaming NATO and justifying the war. I hear that Russia has strict information control. Because of this aspect of information warfare, I am groping about what I should believe. However, when I see my Ukrainian friends, who at first were saying that they want the war to stop, laughing when they see images of Russian destroyed tank, I realize that this is the reality. I cannot but stop feeling sad.

Before the war, about 76,000 international students were studying in Ukraine. Due to the high quality of education and low financial burden, many medical students were studying in Ukraine, especially from India. However, many students were kicked out of their universities. As a result, some Ukrainian medical students are trying to transfer to medical schools in other European countries, such as Romania, Poland, and Hungary, which have begun accepting Ukrainian medical students. Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom have also announced plans to accept medical students from Ukraine. In particular, Hungary, which has announced that it will accept Ukrainian students with tuition fees comparable to those in Ukraine, seems to be very popular. Semmelweis University, which is famous for its large number of Japanese students, has already received more than 200 transfer applications and inquiries from more than 1,000 people. However, not all can transfer to other universities. Many medical students cannot prepare the mandatory documents for transfer. It raises the barrier to transfer because they do not have a way to prove they have studied medicine in Ukraine. More than 210 educational institutions in Ukraine have already been attacked and destroyed by Russia. While all those things happening in Europe, I am still studying in a comfortable library in a peaceful everyday life, where nothing is different from usual. That contrast is making me nervous.

It has already been 19 days since the invasion of Ukraine. Although the exact number of dead and wounded is unknown, the number of people displaced from Ukraine to European countries has already exceeded 2 million. The Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh is located on the same street as the Russian Embassy and is only 100-200 meters away, but every day hundreds of people are calling out against the war. Ukrainian flags are raised on the university campus, and people do charity activities such as free doughnuts distribution and make donations. Nevertheless, the fact that the war has not ended reminds me of the powerlessness of human beings, but as a medical student, I would like to pay attention to the people in front of me, listen to what they are saying, and support them in any way I can.


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