Published: 01st March 2022
Roughed up by security forces, depleting food stocks: Here's how Indian students are battling it out in Ukraine
India managed to accelerate its efforts to get its nationals out of Ukraine in the last 24 hours, though the situation on the ground continues to be "complex and fluid"
Depleting food stocks and long queues for water are adding to the trauma of stranded Indian students in war-hit Ukraine awaiting evacuation amid reports of some being roughed up by security personnel and spending freezing nights out in the open.
As Indian and Ukrainian authorities on Monday described the situation as "complex" and "very difficult" in terms of evacuation of people, the students, joined by their parents, appealed to the Indian government to expedite efforts to evacuate them.
Russia launched its attack on Ukraine last Thursday. I want my son in front of my eyes as soon as possible," said Kamini Sharma, who is praying for the safe return of Vibhor Sharma (22), a resident of Indore in Madhya Pradesh.
Vibhor is pursuing a medical course at the Ternopil National Medical University. Payal Panwar, a final year medical student who returned to her Kotdwar home in Uttarakhand, said the stranded students need help of the Indian government and the Indian embassy people more while they are still inside Ukraine rather than when they have moved out of the war-torn country. "The problems end when you cross the borders but while you are inside Ukraine it is really difficult with food supplies running out and no cash in ATMs. Stranded students need the help of Indian authorities while they are still inside Ukrainian borders," said Payal, who studies in Ivano-Frankivsk city in western Ukraine.
Recounting her ordeal, she said around 60-70 Indian students had to book a bus and also walk a distance of 8-10 km in freezing cold to reach the Romanian border to get out of Ukraine. Many ATMs could not dispense cash and long queues of men and women waiting for their turn for food supplies were seen at several points, she said. Though happy and relieved to be reunited with her parents, Payal and her parents are worried about her brother who was still stuck in Kharkiv.
An Indian student who managed to reach the Kyiv train station said Ukrainian guards were not allowing students to board trains and also beating up people and made a fervent appeal to the Indian embassy to evacuate them as soon as possible. It's getting difficult for us to stay here, Ansh Pandita told PTI, as scores of Indian students, including women, sat huddled together at the teeming Vokzal railway station in the Ukrainian capital, holding a large tricolour aloft so they could be recognised in the crowd and also so no one from the group gets lost.
The group of about 100 students managed to reached the station but no one could board a train. Ukrainian soldiers are not allowing us to board the train to Hungary. In fact, they are not allowing any international resident to get out, Pandita, a student of Taras Shevchenko National Medical University in Kyiv, said over the phone from the station. We requested them to at least allow the girls to go but that request too fell on deaf ears," the student added.
Congress also alleged that Indian students were assaulted by security personnel on the Ukraine-Poland border. "Students are crying out for help, requesting the Modi government to intervene but to no avail. We saw a video last night on the Ukraine-Poland border where students are being beaten up," party spokesperson Ragini Nayak told reporters.
India managed to accelerate its efforts to get its nationals out of Ukraine in the last 24 hours, though the situation on the ground continues to be "complex and fluid" in terms of evacuation of people, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.
It said a total of 1,396 Indians were brought back home in six flights as part of the evacuation mission and the total number of Indians who have left Ukraine since India issued the first advisory earlier this month is around 8,000.
An estimated 20,000 Indian nationals, mainly medical students, reside in Ukraine. As the battle for Kharkiv rages on, at least three students from Maharashtra pursuing medicine in the city located in northeast Ukraine, narrated how they had to stand in long queues for a can of water, drink soda, stay in bunkers, and risk their lives to fetch food items amid bomb blasts.
Ambassador of Ukraine to India Igor Polikha along with Ambassadors from other countries, lights candles in solidarity with Ukraine amid Russia-Ukraine conflict, outside Ukraine Embassy in New Delhi (Pic: PTI)
Hritik Bapulohar, a first-year medical student from Palghar, said he had reached Kharkiv city only a couple of months back. "We can hear bomb explosions as they are taking place in a periphery of around 500 metres from where we are currently staying in Kharkiv. We are struggling even for basic needs. As many as 500 students are staying in two bunkers for the past four days. When the curfew was lifted some of them left the hostel. The situation is worsening fast. I appeal to the Indian government to evacuate us urgently," he told a Marathi news channel.
Bapulohar's senior Aishwarya Patil, who hails from Sangli, said drinking water stocks have exhausted at their Kharkiv hostel. "We are currently using soda water for drinking. After standing in queues stretching up to 2 km, we can get a can of five-litre water. Food prices have tripled since the war began. We are taking huge risks by stepping out to purchase food items. We are hiding as bomb blasts are happening here. During nights, we are given an hour for cooking by authorities. We cook using mobile flashlights," she said.
Shivanjali Yadav, also from Sangli, said students and other Indians are asked to stay in bunkers in Kharkiv even though we don't have much food and water with us. The students trapped in a bunker in the Kharkiv region are facing difficulties in arranging food, water. Some of them have fallen sick in freezing temperatures, few blankets, and dipping oxygen. There are also no transportation facilities available for them, said one of the students who returned to Odisha.
Several students wanting to return to India from Ukraine had to spend two days under the sky in severe cold weather at the Romanian border after travelling by bus and then walking for 25 km, a mother of one of the students said. My son somehow boarded a bus from Ternopil to reach Romania. But, on the way, he had to get down from the bus due to some problem and the border was still far away," the Indore-based Kamini Sharma, told PTI.
The woman said her son along with several other Indian students walked for 25 km to reach the border of Romania. "But, these students, gathered at the Romanian border, had to stay under the open sky for two days in the harsh winter weather as they were not allowed to enter Romania immediately," she said quoting the phone conversation with her son.
Sharma said she has now come to know that clearance has been given for the entry of these Indian students into Romania on Monday morning. Ukrainian Ambassador Igor Polikha said his country is helping the stranded Indians and extending assistance in their evacuation notwithstanding the "very difficult" ground situation.
Polikha said he himself reached out to some of the Ukrainian border guarding commanders requesting them to assist the Indians who are trying to exit the country through land borders. "The situation is very difficult and complex. My resources are limited. We are victims of aggression. Still, we are trying to help people including those from other countries," he told a media briefing in Delhi.
Polikha said the circumstances at the Ukraine-Poland border crossing are challenging as lakhs of people including diplomats, foreigners and Ukrainian citizens are queuing up to exit the war-hit country.