Kyiv: Students from Kerala stranded in the war-torn Ukraine are making desperate pleas for safe evacuation. Many hope to get onboard special Air India flights that would be arriving in neighbouring countries to airlift stranded Indians. The students are tense as Russian forces are advancing deep into Ukraine and laying siege to the capital city, Kyiv.
The students are trying their best to reach out to the officials of the Indian embassy with requests to save their lives. They claimed that they have not received any communication from the embassy. The latest communique from the Kyiv-based embassy asked the students to stay put wherever they are at present.
Adding to difficulties for all several bunkers are running out of space. The citizens of Ukraine have already occupied them. They are so crammed one can't even sit properly, an Indian student said.
Overseas students are trying to explore all options to return home and exchanging WhatsApp messages regarding the alternatives available before them. Owing to network problems they cannot contact near and dear ones back home.
“Hiding in cold, pitch-black bunkers”
Emi Ann Roy
Bogomilist National Medical Centre, Kyiv
Hails from Ranni
“Our hostel is functioning out of a war shelter. All have shifted to the bunkers built in the hostel basement. Its pitch dark inside the bunker and temperatures are minus zero degree," said Emi Ann Roy, a native of Ranni in Kerala, who is an MBBS student of Bogomolets National Medical University in Kyiv.
"I have booked a ticket for tomorrow's flight. All others who are with me too have already booked their tickets to return home. But the airport has been destroyed in the Russian attack and flights have been cancelled. We can't move out of Kyiv," she narrated her predicament.
Emi wants the Indian government to give special consideration for Kiev in the evacuation operation. "The Indian evacuation operation is happening at quite a distance from here. We can reach there only by road. But we have been given strict instructions not to move out of the hostel," she said.
Air India will be operating flights to Romanian capital Bucharest and Hungarian capital Budapest for evacuation.
Latest reports say 40 India students walked to Poland border from the Ukraine side.
The metro station is as safe as a bunker. Travelling to Poland not safe at this stage
“Refuge in a metro station”
Kharkiv National Medical University
Hails from Ranni
Axel Thomas, another MBBS student from Ranni, is stay put in an underground metro station at Kharkiv, a city 480 km from Kyiv. He is a student of Kharkiv National Medical University.
"The metro station is as safe as a bunker. I am not going back home. Since this area is bordering Russia, initially it was considered safe. But we moved to the bunker as there was a possibility of bombing in the area," Axel said.
There is huge rush of foreigners and natives here. It’s difficult to even sleep here. Several articles are not available in shops and it is not possible to travel for shopping. Though we have stocked water and food, it may not last for long. We came to know that the airports have been shut and flights suspended when we went to book our tickets for home, he added.
To reach Poland one needs to travel for 25 hours by road. Moreover, travelling at this stage is not safe. We expect the Indian government to intervene in the matter at the earliest. We are trying to be in touch with the Indian embassy, Axel added.
About 120 persons are stranded on the border as they do not have Poland visa.
Mohammad Jiyan, Lviv
“120 stranded on Poland border”
Daynlo Halytsky Medical University, Lviv
Hails from Kalamassery, Ernakulam
Mohammad Jiyan, who is from Kalamassery in Ernakulam, revealed about 120 persons are stranded on the border as they do not have Poland visa.
"We are not able to enter Poland to return to India (by taking the special Air India flight). No one from the embassy has got in touch yet. Our relatives back home said that they had apprised Union minister V Muraleedharan about their plight," Jiyan said. (Muraleedharan is the Minister of State for External Affairs & Parliamentary Affairs.)
He is a student of Daynlo Halytsky Medical University in Lviv, a city 80 km from the Ukrainian border with Poland. Several India students from this university reached the Poland border.
Missile attacks have been happening here since Thursday morning. Russian tanks are moving through the main roads.
Gokul Sreekumar, Kharkiv
“Short of food, money”
Hails from Palakkad
Gokul Sreekumar, another medical student and a Palakkad native, said more than 500 students from Kerala are stuck in Kharkiv which is facing a series of attacks from the Russian forces.
I stay with six Keralites in a flat in Kharkiv. A few north Indians and Ukrainians are in the nearby flats. Missile attacks have been happening here since Thursday morning. Russian tanks are moving through the main roads. Most Ukrainian army camps have been destroyed, he narrated.
Sirens blare before every missile attack. On hearing the siren sound we have to rush to the bunker in the basement of the building. On one occasion the siren didn’t blare and within moments a missile fell nearby with a deafening sound. Every one became panicky. Thinking that bunkers are not safe, we shifted to an underground metro station. It was biting cold there and snow fall outside. Unable to bear the biting cold we returned to our bunker in the night. We are awaiting instructions from the embassy. The food is almost out of stock. There are no functioning ATMs nearby to withdraw cash, Gokul added.
“In the grip of fear amidst explosions”
Sumy State Medical University, Sumy
Hails from Thrikkakara, Ernakulam
Asif Amir, another native of Thrikkakara in Ernakulam, said 150 Keralites are stranded at Sumy, a city and state in north-eastern Ukraine, 65 km from the Russian border. He is a student of Sumy State Medical University.
"The university has discouraged students who are in the last year of the course from returning home. Those who saw the explosions in Sumy are in the grip of fear. Attacks can happen at any moment. The fist shell attack happened here on Thursday afternoon by 2 pm. Explosions continued till 11 pm. About 30 people left home just before the war broke out early on Thursday (Feb 24)," Asif said.
Army tanks have taken over all civilian areas. There are frequent attacks on the military camp which is located about 7 km from the hospital. At present we are cooking food ourselves. We can buy things only if we reach shops quite early in the morning. We can't withdraw money from ATMs but can use bank cards at shops for purchases, he added.
"Week-long wait for flight back home"
National Medical University, Odessa
Hails from Kalady, Ernakulam
Vandana Jesto, a native of Kalady in Ernakulam district, too wants to return home but is stuck like several others from her country and home state.
"We have been waiting for the last one week with packed bags to return home. But there is no way we can get out from here. We had booked tickets to return from Ukraine on Friday. There are about 1,000 Indians in our university of which 200 are Keralites. We heard students would be taken to Romania by road and from there to India," Vandana recounted her predicament.
She is a student of the National Medical University in the coastal city of Odessa, 442 km from Kyiv.
"I am staying with other students in an apartment. There are strict instructions from authorities to stay inside the apartment and not to venture out. All shops in the area are closed. We have food and essentials just for two days. Since it’s a port city, people here are in the grip of fear as attack can happen any time," Vandana revealed.
Even a land trip to Romania to take the Air India special flight for students like Vandana is difficult.
The distance between Odessa to Romania border is a good 500 km, she said.
"Even taxis are not available"
Atmaja G Nair
Atmaja G Nair, who is from Karikkamuri in Ernakulam district, too said, travelling by road is quite risky.
"We will be able to reach Poland or Romania only if we travel 1,000 km. We will have to travel through areas in and around Kyiv which are facing heavy fighting. Officials of Indian Embassy informed that we need to book taxis on our own and reach the neighbouring country. But taxis are not available," Atmaja said expressing her dilemma.
"Online classes are continuing. We are getting ready to move to a bunker from our hostel. We heard that there was a shell attack about 3 or 4 km away from our university the other day," she added.
Atmaja is also a student of the Sumy State Medical University where Keralites alone account for 400.
"Some shops have opened, but there are long queues. It is difficult for students to be in the queue for long because of the freezing cold," the MBBS student revealed another difficulty all of them faced.