News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay

This article was first published 2 years ago  » News » To Ukraine, With Love

To Ukraine, With Love

March 05, 2022 09:34 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

'If I had to describe my experience of the people in one word, it would be 'warmth'.'
'They opened their hearts and homes for us.'

IMAGE: The National Pirogov Memorial Medical University in Vinnytsya, Ukraine, where Soni and Amit Ratan Singh studied medicine. All Photographs: Kind courtesy Dr Amit Ratan Singh and Soni Singh

Soni and Amit Ratan Singh are doctors at a government hospital in Uttarakhand who met at the National Pirogov Memorial Medical University in Vinnytsya, Ukraine.

The medical school was the focal point of the town where foreign students from India, Pakistan, Middle East, Europe, Africa arrived to study medicine.

The couple stayed in Vinnytsya for eight years -- the first year was spent learning the Russian language, history and other subjects at the university.

At the end of the year, students had to pass an examination in Russian before commencing their study of medicine.

Soni and Amit returned to India after the successful completion of the programme and set course to build their lives as doctors.

Along the way, they also married each other and continue to serve in many remote areas in the hills of Uttarakhand.

Nearly twenty years after they left Ukraine, the country occupies a special place for them. However, the past weeks have been gravely upsetting. Images from Kyiv, Kharkiv and elsewhere in the country has brought back memories of another time -- a time when peace prevailed and lasting friendships were forged.

"College days are the best days in the life of every student and we have such fond memories of the people and the country,' says Dr Soni Singh.

"Ukrainians have become victims of politics. Russians and Ukrainians are basically the same people, Ukrainians have Russian roots and share a common culture -- but now they are fighting each other," says Dr Amit Ratan Singh.

"Brother is fighting brother. It is sad.'

IMAGE: Soni and Amit Ratan Singh with friends.

Remembering those years of the mid 1990s-2001, he says the older generation, especially in the villages, used to look back at the USSR with fondness. While the youth growing up in independent Ukraine looked towards Europe and USA.

Russian was the common language most widely spoken and all foreign students learnt to speak it because the medium of instruction was Russian.

"Ukraine had declared independence from Russia, but there was still a lot of love and respect for each other," says Dr Amit.

"If I had to describe my experience of the people in one word, it would be 'warmth'. They opened their hearts and homes for us."

In the early days when they did not know the language well, his wife remembers giving her purse to shopkeepers or bus conductors and they would take out the money for the purchases and fares.

"They would put the remaining change back," recalls Dr Soni.

She also noticed that women outnumbered men -- a fallout of the Soviet Union losing a large number of men in World War II.

Bus driver, shopkeepers and everyday encounters would mostly be with womenfolk who dominated the milieu.

Ukrainian homes were modest and humble. "The flats would be cozy and carpeted where visitors left their shoes outside and entered.'

"We fell in love with a great number of Russian dishes and have incorporated the famous Borscht (soup), Golubtsi, Pilmeni (dumplings), salads, compote and jams in our own kitchen in India,' says Dr Soni fondly.

IMAGE: The young couple pose for the picture at the water front.


The couple reminisce about a trip to Yalta on the Black Sea which brings back warm memories of the hospitality of the Ukrainian people.

They had hopped off a bus at the end of a long journey and were discussing options for accommodation when a lady invited them to stay at her home.

"She opened her home and welcomed us," remembers Dr Amit. The cost of the stay was much less than a hotel and they enjoyed the experience which has stayed with them twenty years later.

The country's goodwill towards Indians was remarkable and they often encountered it on campus and on the streets.

Actors Raj Kapoor, Mithun Chakraborty and Govinda were popular and had a fan following among the locals. Indians would often be greeted with Awara Hoon, Raj Kapoor's famous song.

IMAGE: The couple playing with dolphins.


IMAGE: At Coronation Day at the University.

Vinnytsya is not a big city like Kyiv. "Students could focus on their studies without the distractions that come with a big city,' says Dr Soni.

"It was a city dedicated to education in the medical field and we loved our student days."

The doctors learnt their craft there and hope that peace prevails soon.

"We have such beautiful memories which will remain with us," says Dr Amit.

The couple is hoping to send their son to study medicine in Ukraine, but the plan will remain on hold till better times return to the country.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024