Foreign students accidentally trapped in Ukraine's war

Wissam Fawzi left Iraq in 2006, hoping to put the horrors of war behind him and study dentistry far away from the sound of bombs. Unfortunately, he picked eastern Ukraine for his new home.

Donetsk: Wissam Fawzi left Iraq in 2006, hoping to put the horrors of war behind him and study dentistry far away from the sound of bombs. Unfortunately, he picked eastern Ukraine for his new home.

"I wanted to move to Donetsk because there was war in Iraq. There was shelling in Baghdad in 2006. It was very hard," said the 29-year-old.

But now he is studying at the University of Donetsk, in a city that has become the main stronghold of pro-Russian separatists fighting a violent eight-month war against government forces that has claimed at least 4,300 lives.

"I knew some people in Donetsk that told me the town was pretty, that people were nice," said Fawzi in fluent Russian.

Donetsk has been shelled almost daily for months. The explosions resonate around the walls of the university which only a year ago was named the best in Ukraine.

"Sometimes it's scary when the shelling is getting closer, when the noise is very loud, when I get the feeling that it's landing right next to us," said a 23-year-old Indian student who did not give his name.

Signs dotted around this 84-year-old institution indicate the nearest bomb shelters.

"My parents are also being shelled. And now they are scared for me," said Mohammad Jaro, a 24-year-old from Syria.

The university says there were more than 2,000 foreign students from 57 countries studying here before the war in the medicine, dentistry and pharmacy departments. Only 84 students are still here.

Most came from the Middle East, Africa or former Soviet republics -- attracted by low fees and a good reputation, said Bogdan Bogdanov, the 43-year-old head of the medical faculty.

He took over a month ago after his predecessor decided to leave the region, which has been cut off from all financial and public services by the Ukrainian government.

The university -- at which all students spend their first year learning Russian -- was one of several that built global ties during Soviet times with the aim of educating the elites of developing countries and sending them home imbued with Communist ideology. 

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