Embassy of India in Ukraine accommodates more than 200 Indian students at school near the Embassy in Kyiv on Thursday.
As Russia announced a military operation in Ukraine bombing multiple cities across the nation, an estimated 18,000 Indian students remain stranded there. Most of them medical students, are lodged in hostels, and flats in the vicinity of their universities across cities and regions. The Ukraine air space remains closed and the fourth Air India evacuation flight had to return midway from its journey to the capital city of Kyiv.
The Indian embassy in Ukraine, issued three advisories in quick succession, following the attacks yesterday. The first one urged students to stay indoors for safety and the last one advised them to look for bomb shelters and always carry their passports.
In an address to the nation late last evening, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary of India, announced land evacuation operations through neighbouring countries Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Hungary.
On ground, Indian students are stranded and fear attack. Social media platforms are inundated with their cries for help, and their exasperation with the Indian embassy.
Borders are jammed; there is panic buying and many of them say a shortage of cash and petrol.
As they await evacuation and an uncertain future in a war-torn nation, BOOM spoke to some of the students stranded in Ukraine, their family members and some who made it back.
'We just want to go back to India'
- Abhinav Kumar, 20, student, Ternopil National Medical University, Ukraine
I came to Ukraine to study MBBS from Patna. I came here to Ternopil in Western Ukraine, close to Poland four months ago.
We first heard of the attacks last night. The condition in Kyiv and Kharkiv is bad. Internet is spotty and public transport has stopped. Things are marginally better in Western Ukraine.
I am sheltered in the hostel with my Rajasthani and Ecuadorian roommates.
We have stocked up on supplies for a week as we don't know how long the university mess will continue to function. There are queues at grocery stores; the one I went to had 8 counters and 40-50 people at each counter. There is also a shortage of cash.
There are about 2,000-2,500 Indian students at my university. Only a few managed to get on the evacuation flights. I could not take the evacuation flights back to due to the high cost (Rs 60,000 for a flight that would otherwise cost Rs 30,000). I have flights booked for March 10 and I am not sure if the airspace will be operational by then.
We weren't expecting the war to happen and have been caught off-guard.
Additionally, the messaging from the embassy was confusing. Evacuation should have begun much sooner.
We are getting all our news from Twitter as we are unable to follow the local language news. We just want to go back to India!
'I am alone in a flat and I am scared'
- Deepika Gulati, 23, student, Odessa National Medical University
I have heard four blasts since 5-6 am in the morning and have been seeing videos shared over social media. We heard that one of them was near our university hostels and a building has fallen. I haven't been able to confirm it.
I am stuck alone in my flat in Odessa and I am very scared. Everything was calm until yesterday. There has been advisory from the university. We were told classes will be conducted online and have now been informed that they have been cancelled.
My university has approximately 4,000 international students. A lot of Israeli students were evacuated by their embassy and left several days ago. Not many Indian students have managed to leave. I couldn't afford the Air India flights back and booked my tickets for March 1.
I have stocked up on supplies with a grocery store visit early in the morning. The food stores are very crowded. Internet here is stable so far.
'The Indian Embassy responded very late'
- Satysheel Yadav, brother of Indian student
My sister Renu Yadav, 23, has been studying MBBS in Odessa, Ukraine for the past four years. Some of my cousins, all from Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh), are also studying in different parts of Ukraine. When the tensions began, the flight prices touched Rs 1.8 lakh (around 18 to 20 February). The students started complaining to the Indian Embassy. The university on the other hand insisted on offline classes. The students were confused. We couldn't afford the flights besides they were booked out very quickly once announced.
It was much later that the embassy's advisory on evacuation came. Students from the UK and US were already evacuated by then.
I have been trying to reach the Indian Embassy on helpline numbers, through their Telegram group, Twitter, and have received no response anywhere.
For now, they are holed up in their apartments, in groups of 10-20. They have charged phones and stocked up on supplies. We don't know when networks will drop. They heard blasts in Odessa city at around 4 am.
'I left at the cost of dropping a year'
- Maithili Gulhane, 20, student, Chernivtsi
I came on a commercial Fly Dubai flight on February 19, to Mumbai, with a 15-hour layover in Dubai. I had earlier booked tickets on February 3 but cancelled because we had no final confirmation from the university or the embassy.
Both third- and sixth-year medical students need to take the KROK exam administered by Ukraine's Ministry of Health. It is a serious exam, and I am in my third year. Ultimately, it was because my family was so concerned that I decided to leave. I knew if I left there was a chance of having to repeat the year.
I am in touch with my friends and classmates, and they are in a lot of trouble. Some of them were to leave by the evacuation flight yesterday that couldn't leave. They had to return to Chernivtsi, it's in the west and relatively safer right now.
I booked my tickets at Rs 32,000 and some other after me had to take the same flight for Rs 72,000. Cards are not working; bank servers are down and now my friends aren't able to transfer money or attempt to book flights.
There was no information from the Indian embassy, the UK and US embassies evacuated their students 20-25 days ago.
'There are tanks and artillery on the road'
- Ravi Bhatia, 25, Ukrainian language student, Kyiv
When tensions escalated but no invasion took place on February 16, we thought there was no emergency to leave. When evacuation flights were announced though, I tried to book a ticket. All three flights, on February 22, 24 and 26 were sold out. The prices were also very high at Rs 80,000.
I am now in my flat in Kyiv with two Indian friends. The morning was calm apart from some panic buying at grocery stores. We heard the attacks later in the day and by now (early evening) it feels like a war zone. There are tanks and artillery on the road. The internet is likely to be cut off very soon.
We have been trying to move westwards to Lviv but petrol pumps are out of gas and without maps we will be lost. Besides, we don't know if we will find accommodation in Lviv. Also, ATMs are out of cash and there are long queues at the borders of the city.
We are in touch with 20-25 other students here and waiting it out.
'We are hiding in the Metro station'
- Jensi Singh, 4th year student, VN Karazin Kharkiv National Medical University
We are hiding at the nearest Metro station in Kharkiv and don't have proper internet. It's underground and it feels safer. We could hear the shelling outside.
We want to go home. Please help us.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dialled Russian president Vladimir Putin and discussed India's concerns regarding the safety of Indian citizens in Ukraine, especially students. India, he said, attaches the highest priority to their safe exit and return. He also appealed for an immediate end to the violence in Ukraine that started in the morning. A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said PM Modi called for "concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue".
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