“The rate, at which the Indian government is carrying out its evacuation process, does not help. There are thousands and thousands of students, who are stranded in a war-torn country and we expect the Indian government to act more promptly,” says a visibly worried Kuldeep, from Hisar, Haryana.
The 23-year-old, third-year student from Dnipropetrovsk State Medical University, who reached India on February 24 hours before Russia declared a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, shares the plights of Indian students, struggling to survive the war-like situation in Ukraine.
Students were initially asked to leave the country for two weeks, as tension was mounting. However, with a war-like situation being declared, students have left and don't know when they would return.
“When India had sent the Air India carrier to deport stranded Indians, the fare was fixed at Rs 60,000. Most students had stepped back right there, how can middle-class students like us, who are already facing a crisis, now pay for such an exorbitant ticket fare,” says Kuldeep, a resident of Hisar, Haryana.
Like Kuldeep, many students wonder if only the government could have reduced the prices and increased the number of flights to deport them out of Ukraine, many lives would have been out of danger.
“When the tension was already escalating between Russia and Ukraine and the Indian embassy had issued its first advisory, how come the Indian government was not prepared for evacuation? The information must have passed to the government before Russia declared the war,” says Kuldeep, adding, “But here was our prime minister, busy raising slogans for the Assembly elections whereas, hundreds of students are breathing for their lives in freezing temperature at the Ukraine-Poland border.”
Students are stranded at the border, where the temperature has dropped to as low as -5 degrees Celsius. With no supply of food and water, students have been travelling stretches of kilometres with the hope of getting out of the country. However, their fate is being met in other ways.
“The Ukraine military forces are beating students, their passports are being torn so that they don’t crowd those areas. Videos have gone viral. It’s a very, very heartbreaking situation there,” says Kuldeep, who has his friends falling sick there and waiting to be evacuated.
Kuldeep, who also has his brother stuck in Kharkiv National Medical University, says that although the Indian government has started Operation Ganga to carry out the evacuation of its students, there are hardly any safety havens for students stranded at the border. “I was lucky to have gotten help from the Indian embassy in Kyiv. Unfortunately, not all embassies across the country are as helpful as that of in the capital city, and hence, we are more worried,” says Kuldeep.
As the war intensified, Ukraine closed its airspace, stopping all the flights. “My friends, who were waiting and hoping for a safe return inside the airport, was suddenly forced out and put in bunkers. They could not go back to their universities, as they were hundreds of kilometres away. The situation is not so good inside the bunkers either,” he says.
Kuldeep describes, “Students are asked to turn off their lights at night. Whenever the air sirens go on, everyone has to rush downstairs. Phones are being asked to be switched off. It’s chaos and it’s our request that Indian governments should act more promptly.”
Like Kuldeep, the fate and career of several students now loom in the dark. Unsure when the situation turns any better, unsure of how their career spans from now, unsure of their lives and of their friends’, students are now walking miles in extreme cold or staying cooped up inside bunkers, with nothing more but hope.
“I was lucky enough to have managed to book a ticket for Rs 60,000 and finally land in Delhi via Sharjah, but my worry for my friends and brother is overpowering.”