Tamil Nadu

Ukraine crisis | A Tamil Nadu medico’s arduous journey back home

The subway where the student spent sleepless nights amid the war.

The subway where the student spent sleepless nights amid the war.

For Charan Raj, a third-year medical college student in Kharkiv, there were two options a day before Russia pounded the city with bombs: stay in bunkers or subways as advised by the authorities or risk a journey by train or road to the international border even as the country was under attack.

He chose the second. Thus began an arduous journey to Iviv, Ukraine’s city near the border with Poland from where he flew home. The 20-year-old student from Madurai spoke to  The Hindu on the 72-hour run-up to his taking the last train to freedom.

While he heard bombs go off in the city now and then, Charan Raj kept assuring his parents at home that all was well and he would reach home soon. Though the war was imminent at one point, there was no clear advisory either from his college or from the Indian Embassy in Ukraine.

Alert came late

“Other foreign missions sent out alerts to their nationals to evacuate and leave Ukraine immediately. But our embassy said students whose stay was not essential could consider leaving. Our stay was essential since we had offline classes and in the third year, it is crucial to complete certain assignments on a daily basis,” he said.

Charan Raj says that like many others he, too, thought that the war would end in a week, resulting in peace following talks or Russia taking over Ukraine. “Even after the explosions shattered our morning peace, our university conducted lectures as usual, which many of us did not attend. Fearing a curfew, we went out to buy groceries and had to wait for long in queues at the stores. But, to our surprise, there were uninterrupted essential services and shops remained open even during intermittent bombings.”

He said the Indian Embassy was almost the last to issue travel or safety advisories, which didn’t really help. He spent days hiding in bunkers and subways, fed up by the advisories that “we should remain calm and stay where we were”. Then, he and his friends decided to risk their lives and travel towards the western borders.

After trying in vain to board a heavily crowded train on March 1, he returned to the subway where hundreds of others were taking shelter. The next day, he and three other students took a taxi to the railway station and boarded a train to Iviv.

Sleepless journey

“The train started towards peace, bringing smiles on our faces. But the progress was too slow. Railway officials said there were speed restrictions since the war was on full scale on the eastern side. But they provided us food at regular intervals. The journey was very slow, scary. It took us 31 hours of sleepless journey to cover 1,017 kms.”

Once the train reached Iviv, they took a cab to reach the international border and enter Poland. “As we moved into Poland and headed towards the airport, there was news of heavy shelling in Kharkiv. Many places that we used to visit were bombed. It was an arduous journey filled with anxiety, and uncertainty. But there was hope...”

On continuing education, he said he would love to go back to college in Ukraine. “Besides the unpleasant times during the war, I like Ukraine and shall forever be grateful to the country for all that it gave us.”

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Printable version | Sep 3, 2022 8:53:53 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/ukraine-crisis-a-tamil-nadu-medicos-arduous-journey-back-home/article65199057.ece