“Our son Rahul, with many of his friends, has finally managed to move out of Kharkiv in war-torn Ukraine. He is now in neighbouring Moldova. We are yet to find out his next destination, from where the Indian embassy will evacuate this group of 298 students.”
“Today, we feel much relieved as I recount the last 10 days, filled with stress helplessness and horror. I don’t think any of us—myself, my wife, daughter (all doctors), and nephew have slept through these nights,” says a desperate father of third-year MBBS student Rahul from Shimla.
Looking visibly shaken by the developments in Ukraine, Dr Ramesh Chand, a senior official in the state’s health department, claims his son too sounded shattered by the destruction he had seen there.
“He is a brave child who used to post photographs of the city, the spaces of his college and show us key places via regular video calls. But now he is shattered, helpless and running from one place to another—walking miles braving a rain of bullets and bombs,” Dr Chand says.
With his phone ringing every minute, Dr Chand has spent hours on the internet and Google search to guide his son about the safest route to take to reach the nearest border. “One day, he [Rahul] courageously ran for hours in extreme cold, got a taxi half way down and finally walked, to reach a group of Indian students who had taken shelter in a small place,” Dr Chand explains.
“The government is in touch with all the children. For the last 10 days, fierce fighting has been going on day and night. There is no pause for a single moment. The earth is trembling in fear and confusion every moment,” his wife says.
The daughter of Dharam Singh Pathania of Chamba, who was also at Kharkiv, reached home two days ago. He too recounts those moments when she—as part of a group of 9-10 students, including those from Punjab, UP and Haryana—took shelter with an Indian family that originally hails from UP.
“I really believe this family has done a yeoman’s job hosting us for nearly a week, feeding these kids well and remaining in touch with every family, assuring their safe return. They told us they won’t allow any harm to be inflicted on our kids or abandon them till they find a safe passage for them,” says Pathania, a former zilla parishad chief to Outlook over phone.
Before arranging local transport for the children up to borders, they packed stuffed ghee paranthas, some snacks, eatables and water bottles, even money for the journey. The kids finally reached Hungary, from where they were evacuated under Operation Ganga.
Meanwhile in Shimla, CM Jai Ram Thakur said of a total 458 students from Himachal Pradesh, 309 have already been evacuated, that there are only 149 students still stranded in Ukraine or countries like Romania, Hungary or Poland.
“We are in constant touch with the Union ministry of external affairs, parents of the students and even some students. The situation in Ukraine is terrible. Some of the students are unable to move-out from their shelters. Those who have reached Delhi or Mumbai were being brought back to their homes safely,” he told the state assembly.
Senior Congress MLA Asha Kumari harmonised with the CM to share her concern for the safety of the students. She asked for a safe corridor as Russia had promised for students, and urged the CM to take the issue up with the MEA as parents were under a lot of stress and anguish.
She named a few cities including Kyiv, where students are living in pathetic conditions, unable to sleep, eat or even get safe water to drink, apparently melting snow to quench thirst.
Neha of Mandi reached home two days ago from Ukraine. She says she spent two days and nights without blankets in -5°C while waiting for a flight at the Romanian border. She also affirmed that Indian and Nigerian students were abused at the border.