At 4.30 am on Sunday, elder brother Mayur Kallur was the last one in the family to speak to Pooja Kallur, six hours before she and her roommate Karishma Bhosale died of asphyxiation in a hostel of Smolensk State Medical University, Russia, that caught fire. Both were asleep when the fire broke out.
Pooja (22), youngest among the nine siblings who live in a Navi Mumbai flat, was the first in the family to go abroad for higher education. She had been living in Russia for four years and planned to pursue a Masters degree from the United States.
There are four hostels in the university with 2,000 students. Pooja and Karishma (21) shared a room on the fourth floor of the six-storey Hostel No. 2 where all Indian students live.
In the early hours of Sunday, 7.15 am local time, a fire erupted in the room next to Pooja’s. An external heater, allegedly kept on the bed of the occupants, had sparked the fire. “Everyone was evacuated. But Pooja and Karishma kept sleeping. The firefighters were able to break open the door five hours after the fire began,” said Mayur.
As many as 60 students were saved after the fire broke out, said the family.
According to the postmortem reports, they died of asphyxiation after smoke filled their room. Both sustained no burns. Pooja’s family came to know about her death at 2 pm on Sunday after her friend’s mother rang them up.
“We made frantic calls to her, the Indian counsellor and her friends,” said Mayur. Their bodies are yet to arrive.
Meanwhile in Pune, Karishma’s grieving family has many unanswered questions. According to them, university officials switched off their phones after they informed them about Karishma’s death without offering any explanation.
The parents said the Indian embassy in Moscow and authorities in the Ministry of External Affairs were their only hope now. So far, they know that she died of suffocation.
“Her friends told us they realised two students were missing when they did a head count. My first question is: why wait till a head count and not check rooms in first place? Secondly, the fire broke out in the next room. If the girls whose room caught fire ran out, couldn’t they have knocked on the door of their neighbours?” asked Karishma’s father Uday Bhosale, who runs a small business of solar panels and accessories.
Seeking a thorough investigation by the Indian authorities, he said, “We want the Indian government to screen these foreign universities before they are allowed to promote themselves or take in Indian students.”