Hundreds of Indian students, facing threats, abuse, explosion and firing in strife-torn Kharkiv, the second most populous city of Ukraine, walked on foot for 14 to 18 km without food and water to reach a relatively safe destination, Pisochyn, towards the Russian border.
These students are from the Kharkiv National Medical University (KNMU), where they have gone to do their six-year MBBS course. They were hiding in various bunkers below the college hostels since February 24, the day Russia declared war against Ukraine.
“It was almost two in the morning on March 2 when we received information from our coordinators that we have to reach the nearest railway station and vacate the city at any cost if we have to remain,” A student said.
Thousands of students walked for about two hours to reach the station and to take the train to Lviv city towards the Slovakian border in the western part of the country. While they were on the road, bombings and shelling were going on.
“A bomb exploded at some distance from us and we all laid on the ground. The earth shook for a while and we thought we might not survive,” a girl, who was part of the group, told Outlook on a WhatsApp call.
Somehow they arrived at the station but didn’t realise that they would have to face so much of threats and humiliation from the Ukrainian nationals. "They didn’t let us enter the train. They were only allowing women and their own citizens,” Ayush, a student of KNMU, said.
He added, “When some of us tried to enter the train, one Ukrainian citizen threatened to shoot us.” Some girls from the group entered the train but many of the female students refused to take the train and decided to be with the group.
“Indian Embassy officials sitting comfortably in Kyiv kept issuing one advisory or the other but they were missing in action on the ground zero. No Indian officials were there to help us. We were all on our own,” the students said.
“To scare and disperse us, Ukrainians fired several rounds in the air inside the station and even shouted slogans, “Go back, Indians go back". They abused us and misbehaved,” Ayush said. The students had to come out of the station and were on the road while another bomb dropped a few hundred meters away from them.
They all ran to take shelter in a nearby underground metro station and stayed inside till the time they got another advisory in bold letters from the Indian Embassy which said, "For their own safety and security, they must leave Kharkiv immediately in the light of the deteriorating situation."
The advisory further asked students to reach three places – Pisochyn, Babai and Bezlyudivka - by bus, vehicle or on foot by six in the evening. These places are 12 to 18 km from the locations where various groups of students had taken shelter.
“We started walking non-stop. We kept on walking. There were all sorts of things happening on the way. Buildings were burning due to fresh bomb attacks, the sound of explosions coming from all around and a couple of bombs fell in the visible distance from where we were walking. But over 700 to 800 students continuously walked in small groups,” the girl, quoted above said.
She added, “We made it to a shelter home in Pisochyn arranged by the India Embassy around 6 in the evening. It is a good and cosy place with electricity, heaters and water. We might not get food today. But I will update you if the Embassy would arrange something."
In this process of evacuation, many students are reported to have gone missing as their group members say that they were left behind while walking on foot and didn’t turn up to the shelter home by the late evening.
"I hope they are safe and will join us very soon. I believe we might be evacuated from the Russian side as this place is closer to the Russian border,” the girl said.