From Ukraine to Lebanon, the uncertain future of Lebanese students who fled the war

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By Laura Stephan

Posted today at 1:00 p.m.

Crystal crafts and colored glass trinkets from Ukraine decorate the dining room of the Ramadan family in Hadath, a suburb of Beirut. Following in the footsteps of their parents, who studied medicine there during the USSR, Fatima, 23, and Mohamed, 21, were studying in eastern Ukraine. Since the Russian offensive, their course has been violently turned upside down.

Fatima was specializing in oral surgery, in Dnipro, far from the economic and social collapse in Lebanon, which had upset her, during a visit last summer. In February, the war that breaks out in Ukraine appears first “distant”. But the noise of “rocket fire”, in early March, wakes her from her sleep. Departure becomes inevitable.

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Without help from the Lebanese authorities, she takes the road, with her brother and young compatriots, to Lviv, the big city in the west of the country. “We felt in danger. We saw strikes, we had to change the route ”, she describes. Thousands of kilometers away, their parents, dead of anguish, are waiting for the message that will tell them that Fatima and Mohamed have arrived in Romania.

Fatima, 23, is a dental student specializing in oral surgery.  She brought back to Beirut some souvenirs from Ukraine.  April 5, 2022.

Studies more affordable than in Lebanon

More than 1,000 Lebanese students were educated in Ukraine before the war. Since then, most have fled the country. This popular destination for young Arabs dates back to the Cold War, when education was a tool of influence for the USSR. More recently, Ukraine offered, with a course in English, costing around 5,000 dollars a year, the possibility of more affordable studies than in Lebanon – quality private faculties are expensive there and, at the public university, the seats are limited.

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“Most Lebanese in Ukraine are in medicine, dentistry or engineering. By sending their child abroad, the parents want him to come back with a diploma that guarantees him a future., specifies Wissam Charafeddine, professor of mathematics at the university, joined in Lviv. The teacher, who made his life in Ukraine, facilitated the evacuation of students to Poland.

The Ramadan family paid for the return tickets themselves. After the relief of the reunion, uncertainty has set in. Since the end of March, Mohamed, a young colossus in his third year of medicine, has been taking online courses. His Ukrainian teachers give them “from home or shelter”. This does not dispel the worry of losing one or more years. The Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon is trying to reassure about the possible return when the war ends.

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