Life at the Teaching Hospital in Tikrit, Iraq’s region battered in the raging civil war, had been sequestered, with the nurses never being allowed to leave its premises in the last ten months, says Vincy Sebastian, one of the 46 Indian nurses evacuated from Iraq on Saturday.
“Everything was provided for in-house, but things took an ugly turn since June 12 when the civil war intensified, forcing all Iraqi staff to leave. Our duty hours suddenly became infrequent and we mostly stayed back on the second floor accommodation of the hospital as sound of gunfire and blast rang out in the streets,” she recounts.
Gradually, they sensed the presence of the rebel ISIS in the hospital building. “But they never crossed our path till last Tuesday or Wednesday when they asked us to move out, as the building was to be bombed. Officials at the Embassy, when told about the directive, were apprehensive and suggested that we stay put. However, around 12 p.m. [local time] on Thursday, they forced us all out and put Bangladeshi and Indian nurses in two separate buses. Blasts occurred in the hospital building as we were boarding the bus and some of us sustained minor pellet injuries.”
Ms. Sebastian vouches for the conscience and care of the rebels, two of whom were with the Indian nurses on the bus to Mosul. “They were good at heart. They put us at ease, allowed us to make calls to folks at home, gave us whatever refreshments like biscuits and cake they could fetch and were in fact, escorting us to safety. A few days before this, they had shifted us into a cellar overnight for our safety, asking gently if we had food. They also gave us water.”
Before the seven-hour-long journey from Tikrit to Mosul, a rebel stronghold, they asked us to put our phones in silent mode and we were given refreshments, says Sona Joseph, another nurse.
“Though we stayed in the same building for a few days, they never even looked at us straight on our face. They were gentle and kind,” she says. What gave us the jitters was the sight of guns and grenades.
Further, they were painfully silent, which was unnerving. At the border between Mosul and Elbit, from where we boarded the plane, we were lodged in a hall for a few hours. As the embassy officials couldn’t come to Mosul and the rebels were at a loss to enter Elbit, under Iraqi military, they made arrangements for us to travel to Elbit, where we finally met officials from the embassy, says Ms. Joseph.
It was a journey fraught with risk and we have decided never to return to that place, they say.