A British student who fled Ukraine said people were rushing to leave ahead of potential turmoil that could “kick off quite quickly” if Russia invades.
Haider Ali, 21, from Birmingham, told the PA news agency that students at Dnipro Medical Institute in central Ukraine were concerned about the university’s proximity to the country’s conflict-torn eastern regions.
Speaking a day after arriving in the UK on one of the first commercial flights out of Kyiv after the Foreign Office called for Britons to leave, Mr Ali said he had urged fellow students to book their tickets too.
“I said to my friends, right, it’s going to get a lot more expensive because when it kicks off, it will kick off quite quickly.
“You know, we’re not that far from the border. We’re only about 200 miles, 150 miles from the border where everything’s going on in Crimea”.
Russia seized control of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 while Russian-backed separatist rebels seized territory in eastern Ukraine in fighting with the Ukrainian military.
A recent Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border has triggered fears that it is preparing another incursion against its neighbour.
Mr Ali said there were worries that Russia could send a warship along the Dnieper River, a major waterway that flows through Dnipro, the city where his university is located, all the way to the Ukrainian capital.
The Dnipro Medical Institute is not far from where a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down above eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board, he noted.
The institution urged students to take advantage of the commercial flights while they were still available, as “when stuff kicks off it’ll be hard to find any plane leaving the area”, according to Mr Ali.
He said many of the university’s British students were, like him, heading home over the weekend.
“If they haven’t gone already, I would expect they will be returning quite soon,” he said.
“The majority of people will be gone by about Wednesday.”
The medical student said: “I’m very grateful that I did buy my tickets early and avoid the panic.
“Because if they run up to any military action, the airspace will be closed, so the only way out would be west towards Poland.
“I’ve had friends talking about taking the train across Ukraine into Poland over the border and flying out through there. Again, if everybody does that prices will soar.”
Mr Ali packed as much as he could using his 30kg luggage allowance on his Ukraine International Airlines flight to Gatwick on Saturday, but had to leave some of his possessions behind.
He said he is “just waiting for things to calm down before I return – if I return”.
He plans to continue his studies remotely from Birmingham until he has to sit his state medical licensing exam in Ukraine in June.
Mr Ali started his graduate-entry medicine studies in Dnipro last September, a move that made his parents “quite worried” because of the ongoing tensions with Russia.
He said Ukrainians had a “laissez-faire” attitude towards Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions, saying “he’s always been breathing down our neck”.
“But I don’t think they’ve seen this amount of massing of military resources on a scale like this,” he said.
“More people are preparing to hunker down and brave the crisis.”