During a media briefing in New Delhi on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary of India Harsh Vardhan Shringla declared that all Indian nationals had left the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
On February 24, Kyiv was the first place where air strikes by the Russian invasion were witnessed. Then and now, Kyiv remains among the worst affected from the impact of the ongoing war.
Many Indian students stranded in the capital city have made it out to the borders of Poland, Hungary, and Romania using any means of transport they could manage— buses, trains, taxis and some, on foot. However, BOOM found out that there are still Indians who are looking for a way out of Kyiv with little or no support.
"Our mission had issued an advisory proposing that our students and citizens leave Kyiv, I understand that since then all of our nationals have left Kyiv," he said. "The information with us is that all our nationals have left Kyiv. Nobody has since contacted us from Kyiv. All our inquiries have revealed that all our nationals have left Kyiv," the Foreign Secretary said.
The claim made by Foreign Secretary Shringla isn't true.
What Was The Indian Advisory?
Many of the students who have managed to get out of Ukraine told BOOM that when they reached out to the Indian embassy, they were first advised to find bomb shelters. Later, they were asked to leave the capital as soon as possible.
An urgent advisory, one of two issued by the Indian embassy on Wednesday, urged Indian students to leave Kharkiv by any means possible and head towards the Western borders.
Kyiv lies in the Eastern part of Ukraine and the closest border is that of Belarus, where Russian forces were allegedly stationed before the attack. Kyiv is also home to many medical colleges where Indian students admitted in MBBS programmes.
What Is Happening In Kyiv?
Mitali and Rijul (names changed), students of economy and finance in Kyiv who hail from Surat, spoke to us over the phone from Kyiv station on Wednesday, a day after Shringla's statement.
"There has been a curfew in Kyiv that was only lifted yesterday. Every time we tried to step out, we heard air strikes and missiles. We have been very scared. And yet, we have been coming to the station and all the trains are full," said Mitali.
"No buses are plying, and taxis are asking for triple the fare, a whopping $1,500 that we can't afford. And even if we could, we wouldn't know how to pay for it. Banks are shut and there is no cash available in ATMs," she added.
The duo has tried to contact the embassy and their university for help. "Nobody on the embassy helpline numbers responds and our university too, has washed its hands off in the situation," she said confirming that they aren't the only Indian nationals left in Ukraine.
"Many students left but some are still here, trying to find a way out," she said.
A restauranteur who arrived in Poland from the Ukraine border on Wednesday, Ramani Hardik Ashokbhai, said that he had spoken to 12 Indians who were still in Kyiv on the same day.
"Two of them are there on a work permit and all others are MBBS students. Everybody wants to be evacuated," he said.
"We Are Here, We Want To Be Evacuated Too"
For Mumbai resident and education consultant Arham Sheikh, a business trip to Ukraine turned out to be the kind of nightmare he had never imagined. He arrived in Kyiv with his wife on February 17 and the situation in the country started deteriorating in a matter of days.
He spoke to us from an apartment in Kyiv shortly before heading to the basement bunker as he has done everyday the past week since the attacks began.
"That there are no Indians in Kyiv is a false statement. I went out on a grocery run yesterday and ran into Indian students who begged for help. I have been trying to reach the borders unsuccessfully for the past week," he said, adding that he also gets calls from students who are crying and pleading for help to flee the capital for the borders.
"I tried to reach out to several officials in the Indian embassy in Ukraine, wrote mails to Ministry of External Affairs, and all they told me was to leave Kyiv. The question is, how should we leave when we hear missiles day and night and there is no assurance of our safety?" he said, sounding clearly exasperated.
Sheikh and his wife have been going to Vokzal station in Kyiv to board the train every day. "They are not letting Indians and Africans board the trains. There are no buses, and no taxis are willing to go long distance, the closest border is nearly 12 hours away. And the situation is only getting worse with every passing day," he said adding that there is a curfew in Kyiv at 8 pm every night when they have to return to their apartment and hide in the underground bunker.
Sheikh has been appealing to the embassy and to the MEA to help him reach Romania where his brother lives. "I wish the embassy helped students and other Indians out instead of scaring them. They are the only ones who can make it better. Embassies of other countries have been far more helpful in evacuating their citizens, giving them directions, and helping arrange transport," he said.
Sheikh said that after the advisory issued by the Indian embassy on Kharkiv, he received a call from a student to enquire if it applied to Kyiv too. "I didn't know what to say. I don't know if they truly believe every Indian has left Kyiv. I want to say we are here, and we need to be evacuated too," he said.
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