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Concerns Rise In Himachal As Families Try To Bring Back Indians Stuck In Ukraine

The state government, on Friday, put the total number of students stranded in various parts of Ukraine, at 130 as per calls made by parents at special helpline no 1100, set up two days back. The exact number, some parents say, could still be higher.

Calls for evacuating Indians stuck in Ukraine
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“The situation is very unpredictable. Hoping for the best". This was all that a quick short text message from Ishali Mehta—one of the 130 stranded students in war-torn Ukraine, said in response to a WhatsApp call by her cousin Vijayshree Mehta, a teacher at APG Shimla University on Friday.

Since then, repeated efforts to call her on the phone to check on her and other stranded students from Himachal Pradesh, have been futile. She did not respond to any call or text message.

Originally from the apple belt of Jubbal, Ishali is a first-year MBBS student who had left Shimla less than four months back to study in Ukraine.

Till last week, she was posting her photos, selfies and videos on Instagram quite regularly, assuring everyone she was safe despite the situation in Ukraine taking a turn for the worse a few days ago. However, she was worried later and eventually sought help for evacuation. 

Rahul, a third-year MBBS student and son of Dr Ramesh Chand, Deputy Director (health) in Himachal Pradesh government at Shimla, who had posted a video message on social media making an appeal to the Indian government for the immediate evacuation of stranded students on Friday avoided all calls, except one by his father.

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Indians arriving from Ukraine | Credit: PTI

“He is safe and has taken shelter with a local Ukrainian family, who came to his university and picked him up. He is definitely tense and highly stressed, “ Dr Chand admitted to Outlook as efforts by this reporter to speak to him did not work till late at night.

He is studying at Kharkiv National Medical University, one of the oldest Universities in the country with the highest intake of 10,000 students. Another medical institution having Indian students in Ukraine is Bukovinian State Medical University (BSMU).

The state government, on Friday, put the total number of students stranded in various parts of Ukraine, at 130 as per calls made by parents at special helpline no 1100, set up two days back. The exact number, some parents say, could still be higher.

Most of the students though are in touch with their parents and family but are passing through the worst nightmare since being held up in the hostels or taken to safe shelters, where they are sharing common rooms or moved to bunkers.

“I can’t tell you what my exact state of mind is. My parents, especially my mom, will get panicked. I am making you a request with folded hands, kindly do something for our evacuation” one of stranded youths from Mandi, told Outlook over the phone on the promise of anonymity.

Two girls from Paonta Sahib (Sirmaur) – Akshita and Muskan Khan, first-year and 4th-year MBBS students, posted a video on social media on Friday, claiming that the situation in Ukraine has become highly unpredictable and extremely uncertain.

“There were six to seven fighter -planes near the place we are living. There was also an explosion in the town. We are told about everything being shut down soon. We are making frantic calls to our parents asking for help. Now, we ask all of you to please do something in order to facilitate our safe returns to Himachal Pradesh” they urged.

Dharam Singh Pathania, a former Zila Parishad Chairman, Chamba whose daughter Kanika is also among those stranded at Kyiv said apart from safety issues, the children are unable to buy groceries and other essential food items. The stores have stopped digital transactions. There are long queues at ATMs and few have also run out of cash.

“There have been explosions happening in many towns including one where my daughter and her other friends from Himachal Pradesh have taken shelter. We are really worried as there are no flights operating," he says.

Khushboo from Nahan who also posted a video message looked totally shell shocked with the bombing in a 10 km range from the place, where she along with 12 other students (all from Himachal ) were hiding in bunkers and bomb shelters.

“I have come to know that the Russian army has already reached Kyiv. The buildings were being vacated and all families were told to shift to bunkers. I appeal to Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to save our lives and undertake evacuation” she said.

While a few got lucky and managed to get flights two days back, the memories of the crisis they endured refuse to fade. 

Kareena, who hails from Jogindernagar in Mandi, narrated a harrowing tale of the situation in Ukraine and claims herself to be lucky having got a flight back to India even as most of her college's students were still unable to get air bookings.

“Initially, the Indian embassy was not responding to all distress calls from students to make arrangements for their return. Eventually, three flights were arranged. I was lucky to get my ticket done at a reasonable rate of Rs 37,000 against Rs 80,000. Now, upon reaching home, I look back and worry about how my friends will manage themselves in a really vulnerable situation” she says .

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Opposition Congress raised the issue in the state assembly on Friday as Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur informed that the matter had been taken up with union foreign secretary providing details of the students asking for their evacuation.

Asha Kumari, a sixth time Congress MLA from Dalhousie said several parents from Chamba, who are extremely worried, have approached her for help.

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