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Tamil Nadu students seek embassy help to leave Ukraine; state govt offers to pay for evacuation

Many say they are running out of food and that telephone lines to the Indian embassy remain engaged, while Chief Minister Stalin urged the Centre to start Vande Bharat-like repatriation flights.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai |
Updated: February 26, 2022 8:47:01 am
Many said they were running out of food and scared for their lives.(Screengrab/Express video)

People from Tamil Nadu—mostly medical students—stranded in Ukraine are seeking help from the Indian embassy as well as the state government to fly home as the situation there amid the Russian invasion continues to be tense.

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Chief Minister MK Stalin on Friday said the state government would bear the expense of bringing back the students from the east European country. On Thursday he wrote to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar urging him to arrange Vande Bharat-like special flights to evacuate students. He said the government had received hundreds of distress calls from the family members of the students in Ukraine.

Videos of stranded students seeking immediate Indian intervention were shared widely on social media. Many said they were running out of food and scared for their lives. Parents of some of these students approached district collectors’ offices to request their evacuation.

Muthamizhan Sekar, a resident of Senji, Villupuram, and a sixth-year student at Luhansk State Medical University, said there were around 800 Indian students in Vinnytsia, 150 of them from Tamil Nadu.

Speaking to from Ukraine, Muthamizhan said neither the students nor the local residents expected the situation to turn worse like this. He said the university had at the beginning of February told them they could return home, but did not warn them clearly that a war-like situation would arise.

Muthamizhan Sekar.

“There is no panic situation here now. We heard the sound of a blast yesterday around 3pm, but since then we have not heard anything. The university has asked us to follow whatever the Indian government says,” the 26-year-old said.

Muthamizhan said the Tamil students had spoken to minister Gingee K Masthan and that he had assured them of help.

“The Indian embassy also informed us to be confident and safe. The issue is that if we need any instant help, we are not able to get in touch with the embassy because the lines remain engaged for long periods. We have a WhatsApp group where we exchange information with students in other cities of Ukraine. Also through social media like Facebook and Twitter, we get updates from the embassy,” he said.

Commenting on the shortages caused by panic buying, Muthamizhan said they had supplies to survive only for the next two-three days. “After the locals came to know about blasts in other cities, they started to stock up on essentials. Not many shops are open. In the few that are, things are getting sold fast. The ATMs have stopped working, except for one or two, which have long queues in front of them. We need to stand for five-six hours to get some cash and that too is limited.”

He said some of the students who were hiding in the bunkers in the university had left for their rented apartments as the situation improved a bit. “The university has sent us a list of areas where we can immediately seek refuge in case of an emergency. So we form groups among us and stay in those places,” Muthamizhan added.

He said that communication lines were still not disrupted and that he had been in constant touch with students in cities such as Kharkiv, Odesa, Dnipro and Kyiv, from where frequent blasts were reported. “The situation is worse there. They are struggling for food. Many of them have been surviving just on water for the past few days,” he said.

The state government has asked the students to call helpline numbers 044-2851 5288, 9600023645, 9940256444 for any assistance.

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