Students in Ukraine remain on tenterhooks as war breaks out

They hope the State government would help to evacuate them

Updated - February 24, 2022 10:14 pm IST

Published - February 24, 2022 10:10 pm IST - CHENNAI

On a day when television channels continuously showed fire balls and explosions in distant Ukraine, Indian students studying there huddled in their hostels, praying the internet would remain intact.

Several hundred students from the State are pursuing undergraduate medical and engineering programmes in Ukrainian universities. Some returned soon after United States President Joe Biden’s announcement of impending war. But hundreds of others are still stuck.

The stranded students are upset as they have no official information from the Indian embassy. A student in Kharkiv National Medical University, a resident of a Chennai suburb, said his parents were worried. While during the COVID-19 pandemic colleges offered physical classes, the students were informed on Wednesday that classes would be held online from Thursday.

But no classes were held, said the student who is staying in the college hostel. The internet is also patchy. Though the students were safe and had been provided food, an agent on campus was unwilling to speak to the media.

Another student said, “The Indian embassy has told us that they are trying their best. But now the evacuation situation is impossible since all the air bases are destroyed or are being destroyed. So, we are in our respective homes and doing fine now,” she said.

A first-year student in the college said she could hear the blasts. “I am worried but my parents told me not to panic but keep my documents at hand at all times,” she said. Her friends who had booked flight tickets had paid double the normal price. After the blast though, all flights had been cancelled.

K. Logavarshan, from Muthur in Tiruppur district, a third-year MBBS student of the Kyiv Medical University, reached home on Tuesday. He had paid the next semester fee of $2,250.

After the U.S. announced closure of its embassy on February 14, the students had approached the Indian embassy. “We got five days to book our tickets. There are students who have tickets for March. I attended offline class till the day before my departure on February 21,” he said. With martial law imposed by the Ukrainian government there is no word on online classes yet, he added.

“In our college more than 100 students are from Tamil Nadu. Students from Kerala left soon after the U.S. announcement. Earlier, a round trip would cost ₹60,000, but now, a one-way ticket costs ₹66,000,” he added. “All flights up to February 28 are booked. But some students are yet to book tickets,” he added.

Lack of information has hurt students’ chances to leave the country. Mouni Sugitha, a third-year MBBS student in the Lviv National Medical University, and 50 others like her are awaiting help. On Thursday they woke up to air-raid sirens and learnt that transport services had been suspended. They could not withdraw money as the ATMs were crowded in the morning. By noon they shut down. Food was scarce as shops were empty. Her stock would last a few days, she added.

As the crisis deepened, students booked tickets to return home via Turkey and Sharjah. It was only later that they learned that they needed visas to transit through those countries. Some students wanted to reach Poland, a safer place. But with no transport they cannot move, she said over phone.

It would be risky to travel six to eight hours to the capital city Kyiv, where special flights were operated, Mr. Sugitha said. Her parents plan to meet Chief Minister M.K. Stalin on Friday.

Sakthivel’s son Ajith is pursuing mechanical engineering in Ternopil. Mr. Ajith had returned home owing to the lockdown and was attending online classes for several months. He returned to Ukraine in January.

Ajith’s classmate Santhosh Susil Latimer Xavier spent much of Thursday at the grocery and ATM, stocking up on food and cash before the situation worsened in Ternopil, West Ukraine, which has been his home since 2018.

The final year student, who hails from Tiruchi, is studying in the Ternopil Ivan Puluj National Technical University said: “We had no idea that the situation would escalate so quickly.” At least 70 others pursuing engineering and medicine are from southern Tamil Nadu, he added.

“We just got back from India. And now are told that the airports are closing down. The few tickets available are too costly. We are being asked for up to ₹80,000 to ₹1 lakh for one-way air tickets that normally cost ₹30,000,” Mr. Xavier said. His professors and institute were supportive of the foreign students, he said. “They have shared detailed emergency instructions on WhatsApp with all of us, including a map to the underground bomb shelters,” he added.

(With inputs from Nahla Nainar and S. P. Saravanan)

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