Chandigarh: Even as the Ministry of External Affairs Tuesday confirmed the death of a student from Karnataka in Kharkiv, other Indian students, stranded in various parts of Ukraine, have started moving towards the country’s western regions — bordering states such as Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland — in an attempt to leave the war-torn nation on their own.
Having lost faith in the Indian government’s efforts to evacuate them days after Russia invaded Ukraine last week, the students allege that the Indian embassy in Ukraine has been of no help to them.
Speaking to ThePrint Tuesday evening, Vinit Dalal, a sixth-year student at V.N. Karazina Kharkiv National Medical University, said that he, along with a group of friends, had left Kharkiv in the morning, and were even then on a train, travelling towards Ukraine’s western borders.
“There are no vehicles. Everyone walked to the railway station. We could not board the first three trains, but managed to get on the the fourth one. We are on the way to Lviv. Once there, we hope we’ll be able to arrange something to cross the border (into Hungary),” said Vinit, whose family resides in Bahadurgarh, Haryana.
Dalal alleged: “The Indian embassy here told the students who are in first year to go on their own, which is so unfair. They are newcomers and have no clue about the cities. The embassy is not helping at all. They (the embassy staff) got scared themselves and are scaring the students.”
According to estimates by the Indo-Ukraine Medical Students’ Guardians Association (a parents’ group formed last month), an estimated 16,000 Indian students (many of them medical students) were stranded in Ukraine when the war started. While some students have already managed to return to India in the past few days, many continue to remain stranded there.
While Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, has been the most impacted by the war, according to Indian students reached by ThePrint, those stranded in Kharkiv are the second worst affected. The city is barely 25 miles away from the Russian border.
ThePrint had earlier reported that about 3,500 Indian students enrolled at Kharkiv National Medical University have been hiding out in underground bunkers of hostels a few kilometres away, with limited food and water supplies, and eagerly awaiting news about evacuation efforts.
Students stranded in Kharkiv had also told ThePrint that they had been hearing sounds of bombardment since last Thursday, ever since the Russian invasion began.
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‘Windows shook every time there was bombardment’
On Friday, Dalal and 10 of his friends had shifted to an underground metro station in Kharkiv to escape the bombardment. They returned to his apartment Sunday.
“We just had our passports, some important documents and some snacks with us at the metro station. There were around 300-400 people, including many Indian students, seeking shelter there. We returned to the flat because food and water were running out,” he said.
Dalal added that they could hear sounds of the bombardment even from the train as they left Kharkiv Tuesday.
“What is our embassy, the Indian government doing? They are telling us to come to the western side of Ukraine. The situation is really bad here. Trains are few and there are too many people who are stranded,” said a bitter Dalal.
He alleged: “The Indian embassy officials were not responding to calls most of the time. When they did answer, they asked us to contact our contractors (student contractors who had helped them secure admission in Ukrainian universities). And the contractors told us to call the embassy. We were also told not to go out on the streets, but that was not possible.“
“Our flat was very close to the Russian border, and the windows of the flat shook every time there was bombardment. A bomb dropped at a residential building 500 metres away from our flat. We were scared that a bomb might fall on our building, too,” said Dalal, adding, “We were not at all safe in Kharkiv.”
Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar, the Indian student (his family is in Karnataka), who died from shelling Tuesday, had “stepped out to buy groceries” when a missile struck the regional administration building in Kharkiv, close to where he was at the time.
‘Seen two missiles fall right before my eyes’
Some other students who had spoken to ThePrint Monday said the Indian embassy seemed to have given up on students stuck in Kharkiv.
Prince Handa from Hisar, and Rajat Sharma and Sunny Kumar from Yamunanagar in Haryana, are all sixth-year students at V.N. Karazina Kharkiv National University. On Sunday the three had also returned to their flats, after spending two-three days at the underground metro station.
“The Indian embassy is saying that they are evacuating students, but they are only evacuating from the safe areas of Ukraine,” alleged Handa. “There’s been no evacuation from Kharkiv. In fact, we have been hearing (from contractors and other students) that evacuation is not possible from Kharkiv at all.”
Ashutosh Sharma, a fourth-year student at Kharkiv Medical University, who is from Uttarakhand, had also told ThePrint that there were few buses or trains travelling out of Kharkiv, and yet the students were expected to reach Ukraine’s western border.
“I have seen two missiles falling right before from my eyes, at a distance of some 1 km. There are so many blasts happening, everything is shaking even in the basements. Russian tanks are roaming the streets, anything can happen here” Sharma had told ThePrint Monday.
ThePrint tried to reach these students again Tuesday, to check on them, but found their mobiles to be switched off.
(Priyanka Sheoran is a third semester student of MA in Journalism and Mass Communication, Panjab University, Chandigarh and is currently interning with ThePrint.)
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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