Tension mounts, students flee Ukraine’s Kharkiv


They’re still waiting to be evacuated

The sky in Kharkiv was blanketed with a thick black smog as the war-struck city shivered at a temperature of 1°C. There was an eerie silence on the roads. The only sound heard was air-raid sirens every two hours. 

Early Wednesday, a group of students made its way through glass shards and piles of rubble that remained on the streets from the previous night’s brutal bombing of Kharkiv by Russian forces. Their destination was the city’s railway station.

Students of the Kharkiv National Medical University in Ukraine, stuck inside their hostel bunkers, decided to flee the city after waiting for over seven days for the Indian government to evacuate them.

Anushka Pant, 22, a first-year medical student, informed The Observer: “We got a notice from the Indian embassy that we needed to leave the city immediately; it did not matter if we had to do it on foot or by train. We walked to the railway station, which is almost 10 km from our hostel.”

The advisory said: “Leave Kharkiv immediately, repeat immediately, in the light of the deteriorating situation.” It directed people to move to  Pisochyn, Bezlyudivka or Babai by 9.30 pm IST (6 pm Ukrainian time).

“We had planned to go to Lviv, near the Poland border, by train. However, the situation at the railway station was really bad. They were not letting Indian students in the train because there wasn’t much space and they had to move the Ukrainians. Women were being pushed into train coaches. There were bombings and firings happening in front of our eyes. The metro station was also packed with students and civilians trying to evacuate. We decided not to take the train.”

Cheekapravan Harsha, a student of the Sumy State University who had returned to India by a flight on February 23, said: “There are at least 500 Indian students in my hostel. Out of those, only 30 have been able to return to India. The rest are still stuck in Ukraine.”

Indian students have been facing a lot of difficulties while leaving Ukraine. The Hindustan Times reported on Thursday that Polish border guards had beaten up around 100 Indian students and turned them back into Ukraine, following which they were placed in a refugee camp in Romania.

Pant and around hundreds of other students walked about 25 km to reach the settlement near Kharkiv city that was recommended by the embassy. “There was bombing on our way. We were very scared. At times I thought we wouldn’t make it but we knew we had to keep going.”

There are at least 500 Indian students in just one hostel block of the Kharkiv National Medical University, Pant said. All of them had been stuck inside their hostel’s basement for a week with no sign of evacuation or any other aid being sent for them. “There are Ukrainian and Russian students as well. Including all the other hostel buildings, there are some 2,000 Indian students stuck here,” she added.

For a week, the students of the university have been living in dismal conditions inside cramped basements. “After 5-6 days in the bunker, we started to run out of groceries and snacks that we had stocked. We were barely eating anything. We were getting food from the hostel staff also, but it was not sufficient for the number of students that were stuck. For drinking water, we used to buy (it) from the water ATMs. But they were also shut down and the water we had stocked also got over, so then we had to boil tap water and drink,” Pant shared.

“I don’t know where we will go from here or when will we be evacuated, but right now I am just glad to be out of the bunker,” she added.

According to a report published by The Hindu, Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Coal and Mines Pralhad Joshi has said there are still around 8,000 Indian students stuck in war-hit Ukraine, and all diplomatic efforts are being made to bring them back safely.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion on Ukraine on February 24. Ever since there have been heavy bombing and shelling around the country amounting to several casualties.

A report by Al Jazeera said 498 Russian servicemen have been killed and 1,597 wounded since the start of the invasion of Ukraine. On the other hand, Ukraine claims over 5,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since the start of the invasion.



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