‘On pins and needles’
Parents of Jamaican students studying in Ukraine praying for them to return home safely; Government to underwrite all costs
Andrea Timmonds* had an out-of-body experience, expressing that her heart went straight to her gut when Russia launched a military assault on Ukraine last Thursday.
The single mother of twin boys studying medicine in Ukraine, who up to yesterday morning were on a train heading for the border between that country and Poland, said she has not slept well for the last four nights and is constantly on her knees praying.
“I am on pins and needles. I am just walking around because I just can’t understand what happened and I just can’t put it into the words,” the mother of two told The Sunday Gleaner, fear and panic evidenced in her voice.
“I am literally floating and it is just something beyond my reasoning,” she added when pressed for more information on the toll the war has taken on her life.
The boys, Yohan* and Rayon*, are 25 years old, and have been living and studying medicine in Ukraine for the past four years. Their story is similar to other medical students who opted for an education in the Eastern European country.
“They received a letter stating that they were accepted by The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, to study medicine, but when they went to register, they were told that it was oversubscribed and that they should start with the sciences and transfer when an opening becomes available,” Timmonds explained of her family’s ordeal that led to her sons studying in Ukraine.
Reliving the period, she said one of her sons cried bitterly because of the disappointment. But a friend introduced the Ukraine option and they jumped at.
The cost was less than half of what they would pay to attend The UWI, Mona. In fact, the annual fee for each boy to study medicine in Ukraine is US$5,000, compared to an average of US$28,000 - US$30,000 per year, here in Jamaica.
“The living conditions in Ukraine were pretty decent; food was not expensive,” the mother stated, noting that in order to get by as a single parent, she lives within her means, drives an economical car, has no monthly instalments and gets help from her employer to sustain them.
“As fearful as the boys are for their lives, they are remaining positive and trying to focus on getting home safe,” she said.
They were both booked to fly out of Ukraine on February 25, but the closing of the airspace crippled their plans.
Another Jamaican mother who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner said she was in Ukraine three weeks ago and got out four days before the airspace closed, leaving her daughter who recently started medical school there.
Three months into her studies and the Russian army has turned her daughter’s life upside down. While her daughter is now bunkered down in a metro station trying to get out of Ukraine, the mother said she was not interested in speaking to the media because Jamaicans were being unkind to the students.
“There is too much misinformation. I saw posts saying that the Government gave them the option of a loan and they turn it down, which is not true. There is no truth to that. I don’t understand how they got that,” she lamented.
According to her, they were told by the Jamaican authorities that the earliest flight was on March 3, yet the media was reporting something else and readers were bashing the students.
“At this point our best thing is to try to rally together as parents and see how best we can get our kids out,” she said.
GOVERNMENT TO COVER COST
During a press conference yesterday, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith said of the 42 students who were in the Ukraine, 15 have left and 28 remain.
Johnson Smith said last Friday a diplomatic note was sent by the Jamaican Embassy in Berlin to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requesting safe passage for the remaining students in Ukraine for onward travel to Jamaica. The response from the Polish was favourable. However, yesterday 22 students who were travelling by train to join others near the Polish border opted not to continue with their Jamaican counterparts.
They were all accommodated in hotels near the border on Saturday at the expense of the Jamaican Government and “there is no loan requirement on the table”, said the foreign affairs minister.
“The Government will underwrite the costs of subsistence in Lviv, as well as the transportation costs to Poland. We have already publicly announced that we will be also underwriting the costs for air travel back to Jamaica,” Johnson Smith told journalists.
Jamaica’s Chargé d’Affaires in Germany, Denise Sealy, is expected to arrive in Poland today to help with the smooth passage of the students.
HELP POURING IN
In the meantime, help has been coming in for the students, with the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) establishing a US$10,000 emergency fund to assist the students and Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ Positive Foundation announcing the availability of US$11,500.
The monies will be used to assist with transportation, food and other necessities, and is being routed through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
“The prime minister, through his foundation, plans to raise additional funds to further assist the students,” Minister without Portfolio with responsibility for Information, Robert Morgan, disclosed.
President of the PNP, Mark Golding, said on the request of the students he advanced the required sum via direct transfer to enable the purchase of train tickets for 25 students.
Jamaicans living in Europe have also offered to open up their homes to accommodate the students. Last Friday, Shoshannah Richards, who lives in Berlin, reached out via Twitter stating that there were enough Jamaicans across the continent to support the students.
(* Names changed to protect identity)