Around 4:30 am Thursday, Animesh Kumar (22) arrived in Kyiv to board his flight to Dubai. After a three-hour layover, he had another flight to Delhi. Finishing his security check, he stuffed his jacket into a bag at the last minute. “The airport was warm and I knew I wouldn’t need it in Dubai too, so what was the point?” he said.
When he was at the immigration counter, the blasts came. Within minutes, people around him were screaming and crying, and Kumar and the other Indian students had to do what they were told – run out into the extreme cold and keep going.
“As the bomb went off, I heard 3-4 bangs. It took a few seconds to understand what had happened. I had reached the immigration counter, I would have been on the flight soon after. But within minutes, everything turned to chaos. We didn’t get back our bags; we still don’t know where they are. When we asked, a staff told me, ‘Are you mad? Just run’,” said the third year medical student from Dhanbad, Jharkhand.
With no idea where to go, and no warm clothes on him except a hoodie, Kumar said he and several others just kept walking for 3-4 km before stopping. “It was freezing. It was only after sometime that a bus came and dropped us to a metro station, from where five of us reached The Indian Embassy around 7 am. Initially, they weren’t even allowing us in. It was only after the crowd swelled that they gave us shelter in a nearby school. We are in a very bad situation here; we just want to be evacuated immediately,” he said.
“Many of my friends who reached the airport early morning for their flight were asked to leave and the airport was closed off,” says a fourth-year medical student in Ukraine, who was to board a flight to India from Kyiv.@AnonnaDutt writes: https://t.co/BKpCteVO1u pic.twitter.com/kvKqI4DArD
Shilpa Gupta (24), who was in Kyiv to study Ukranian, was also woken up by the sound of the bomb blast around 5am. “I haven’t left my apartment because I’m so scared. We are told online transactions have been stopped so there is no money anymore. My flight to India, for which I had paid Rs 60,000, has been cancelled. The situation here is getting worse. We really need to be evacuated immediately,” she said.
Many Indian students stranded in Ukraine have the same story of anxiety and fear, as the escalating situation is hampering their access to basic things like food, water and money.
Asif Khan (20), a medical student from Rajasthan, who is currently studying in Uzhhorod, said the local shops and malls have all run out of food. “I went out and hunted for food, and all I could manage to get was one onion, and one kg wheat. My breakfast was one slice of bread without anything on it. The situation here is very bad. There is no fresh water supply and we are being told the electricity supply will be cut. It is so cold. How will we survive? What will we eat?” he said.
The son of a farmer, Khan said he had no money to take a flight back home in such a situation. “We are students; we are the future of our country. What is the government doing with us? What are they waiting for? They should get us a flight, take us back home. How will we get lakhs of rupees?” he said.
Sayan Chowdhury (23) from Kolkata, a medical student studying in Ivano Frankivsk, also said ATMs were out of cash and food was running out. “Today morning around 5 am, there was black smoke throughout the city. I have gone out several times in the hope of withdrawing some cash but in vain. There are fights for groceries in shop. There was a bomb blast just 5-6 kms away from us. The US, UK all evacuated their people much earlier. What was our government doing? Why did they delay so much?” he said, with ambulance sirens going off behind him.
“Flights right now are costing Rs 1-1.5 lakh. This is the fee for one semester here. How can middle class students be expected to pay this much? The Indian government should evacuate us immediately, if not from Kyiv then Lviv. Even the US Embassy has shifted there so it’s a relatively safer place. Otherwise it may be too late for us,” he said.
Anurag Puniya (22), a fourth-year medical student at Kharkiv National Medical University in Ukraine, was to board a flight to India from Kyiv at 2 pm on Thursday. After a six-hour bus ride from Kharkiv to Kyiv, when he finally reached the airport, he found that it was closed. The bus dropped him outside the airport, which is around 10 km away from the main city.
Not knowing what to do, Puniya, who hails from Delhi, took a Metro to the Indian Embassy in the city with 40 others, who were on the same bus.
“Many of my friends who reached the airport early morning for their flight were asked to leave and the airport was closed off. Now people are taking a bus, Metro, or walking back to the city. The official advice by the embassy today morning was to return back to the places we came from. But there was a bomb blast in Kharkiv and my friends who are still stuck at the university tell me that the locals are also moving to the Western parts of the country and there is a huge jam on the highway. How can we go back?”
As the crowd of students kept getting bigger, they were informed by officials from the embassy at 01:30 IST that they are trying to arrange for accommodation at a school nearby. They were asked to write their names and where they came from on a piece of paper.
Puniya said that when the Indian Embassy asked all the students to leave Ukraine a few days ago, all flights to India were booked out. “There was a rush of booking, it was impossible to get a seat on a flight to India easily before March 6. I finally managed to get this seat and now the flight is cancelled. Back home, my family is concerned and confused.”
Talking about his friends still at the University, he said, “The university has advised us to go into the Metro stations or any underground place in the campus when the siren rings. The Metros are already full; the locals have boarded with their luggage.” While speaking to The Indian Express over the phone, he said there are fighter jets flying above his location too.