"This is like a new life," said medical student Dhruv Pandita as he recounted the horror he went through in the war-torn Ukrainian city of Sumy before he and his fellow students were evacuated and brought back to India on Friday.
"Even now that I'm back in India, the situation that I have gone through will continue to haunt me for days. Life in Sumy was terrible during the war. I never thought that I'll make it to India alive," Pandita said as he hugged his mother soon after alighting from a relief flight from Poland carrying stranded Indian students.
Pandita, who hails from Kashmir, reached Indira Gandhi International Airport in an Indigo flight from Poland's Rzeszow around 12.40 pm. Narrating his tale, Pandita claimed that he was held hostage along with some other students in Sumy.
"We were confined in a bunker and had no water and food. We had to melt ice to get drinking water. We were not being allowed to move from there," Pandita told PTI.
The fourth-year student at Sumy State University added that it was due to the efforts of the Indian government that he was able to move out of the northeastern Ukrainian city.
"There were blasts everywhere and shelling in Sumy. It was the most challenging time for us. The Indian government made it possible for us to return home alive. It is like a new life for me," Pandita said.
His father Sanjay Pandita reached the airport along with his entire family to receive his son. They carried garlands, sweets and bouquets to welcome him.
"We have thought that we have lost him as he was held hostage. Though we were in touch with him, it looked that he is slipping from our hands. It's his rebirth as we see him alive in India," Sanjay Pandita said as he was inconsolable hugging his son Dhruv.
A similar tale of woe was narrated by students who reached Hindon Air Base through an Indian Air Force flight at 12.30 pm. Viradha Lakshmi, a native from Trichur in Kerala reached the airbase along with her three-year-old white cat.
"I never wanted to leave my cat in Ukraine to die in bomb shelling. Our journey to Poland was halted due to security reasons and hence we reached Poland from Sumy in two days. We were not anticipating that we will survive," Lakshmi told PTI.
The IAF flight reached Hindon from Rzeszow carrying 213 evacuees. Another student Mehtab, a native of Bihar who reached Hindon, said that they survived 13 days in the war, and many days were spent without electricity, food and water. "All the students were depressed and terrified. We all were thinking about how we will escape and go back to India," Mehtab said.
Hanna, a native of Kerala, was the last student to alight from the C-17 aircraft at Hindon. She thanked the authorities for rescuing students from Ukraine. "We have been through a lot during past few days and I thank everybody who took the initiative to bring us back home. We have seen a lot including explosions in this short period of life," Hanna said.
The Indian government carried out the evacuation exercise under Operation Ganga to help stranded Indians leave Ukraine. The operation to evacuate the last big group of around 600 students from Sumy began on Tuesday morning. India has sent three flights to Poland to bring back the remaining students evacuated from Sumy.
With PTI inputs.