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‘How can we not panic’: Indian students in Ukraine plead for safe return

With Russia announcing a military operation in Ukraine, thousands of Indian students enrolled in Ukrainian higher education institutions - mostly studying medicine - are in a state of panic and pleading with authorities to ensure their safe return to India.

People are seen at the site where a missile landed in the street, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Reuters)

Around 4 am Ukrainian time, Akanksha Katiyar was jolted awake by the noise of a distant explosion that shook the building and set off the sensors of cars parked in the neighbourhood.

A few blocks away, Aruj Raj VN, who is running a temperature, had an early morning knock on the door with friends coming over with reports of grim developments unfolding across the region.

With Russia announcing a military operation in Ukraine, thousands of Indian students enrolled in Ukrainian higher education institutions — mostly studying medicine — are in a state of panic and pleading with authorities to ensure their safe return to India.

“I managed to sleep around 3 am. Around 4 am, there were sounds of bombing. The window sill started vibrating and the motion sensors in the cars parked in the area went off at once. Dil saham jata hai…” said Akanksha over the phone from Kharkiv, a town in eastern Ukraine.

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Aruj, also a medical student at VN Karazin Kharkiv National University like Akanksha, said residents are quietly flying out of Kharkiv, which is around 40 km from Ukraine’s border with Russia.

“They are probably trying to move deeper, away from the border. But there is a lot of confusion. Some of my friends who had left for the Kyiv airport last night to catch their scheduled flights to India are also stranded midway. Their buses are not moving,” said Aruj, whose return ticket is scheduled for March 7.

It takes around seven hours to drive to the capital Kyiv from Kharkiv.

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“Tickets are booked but now my return looks uncertain. The airspace has been shut down as far as I know,” said Aruj. The Air India’s special flight, which would have brought back another batch of Indians, had to turn back midway due to the closure of air space in view of “potential hazard to civil aviation”.

Akanksha, who hails from Kanpur, said the India Embassy officials and the local agents, who facilitated their admissions in the medical school, have been urging the students not to panic.

“Par kaise na kare panic? Dil saham sa jata hai (how can we not panic? It is terrifying out here)…only a few of my friends have managed to leave. I tried booking a berth too but could not manage. Ticket prices were all upwards of Rs 60,000,” said Akanksha.

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Arpit Katiyar, also from Kanpur, feels that expecting students to remain calm under such circumstances is not reasonable.

“Even our local agent who arranged our admissions and stay is saying we should not panic. But how can someone not panic when bombs are being dropped? I don’t know what to do. Some are saying the airspace is also blocked now. I don’t know whether I will be able to return, ” said Arpit.

On Thursday, the Indian Embassy in Kyiv issued an advisory urging Indians in Ukraine to “maintain calm, and remain safe wherever you are, be it in your homes, hostels, accommodations or in transit.”

The advisory added that those travelling to Kyiv should return to their respective cities, “especially towards safer places along the western bordering countries.” For now, the colleges have also switched to the online mode of classes, the students said.

Aruj, whose family is in Kanpur, said while the Indian embassy did urge Indians to temporarily leave Ukraine by mid-February, “it came too late when compared to other countries”.

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“We actually thought that the embassy would get us out on time. We had full faith in the Indian mission. We thought the Indian officials have contacts who will ensure that we don’t land in a situation like this. Samajh hi nahi raha ab kya kare…” said Aruj.

First published on: 24-02-2022 at 04:28:21 pm
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