As the first batches of Indians evacuated from Ukraine started arriving back home, thousands of others still stranded in various parts of the war-torn country continued to appeal to the Indian government to rescue them.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla described the process of evacuation as ‘challenging’ and said the Indian embassies in Hungary, Romania, Poland and Ukraine have deployed all officials to help the students who are caught in the midst of a “live conflict”.
“For us our citizens come first,” said Mr. Shringla emphasising India’s commitment to help its citizens in distress.
However, the ground situation is complicated and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to review the situation late Sunday evening.
One student, Arshsalan Azeem who is stuck in his hostel at the Danylo Halytsky Lviv National Medical University with several others in Lviv in western Ukraine near the border with Poland, told The Hindu on Sunday, “We just heard sirens in our city. Everyone is saying there can be attacks here tonight. We are so tired and scared.”
Many students who reached out to The Hindu complained of lack of food, water and sanitation.
Panmana Anandhu, a student in Sumy, said the bomb shelters have become useless as the overground bombing has turned the underground chambers dusty.
Though many of them took a bus close to the border and walked 20 km, they were turned back, he said elaborating the difficulties that Indian nationals are facing while crossing into Poland.
“At the border, they are only allowing Ukrainian people to pass. Some Indian girls can pass, but not boys,” he said regarding the difficulties at the Polish border where there have been several reports of rough behaviour by the Ukrainian border guards who are dealing with waves of people rushing away from the fight.
Poland’s Ambassador to India Adam Burakowski however assured that Indian nationals can enter Poland without visa. Warsaw-based Indian academic Prof. Surender K Bhutani said local Indians and Gurudwaras are also pitching in to help the Indians who are trickling into Poland despite difficulties.
Sources here informed that India is in touch with all the neighbouring countries of Ukraine, including Russia, to ensure the safety of the students and professionals who are trapped in bomb shelters.
India has created border crossings from Ukraine with the help of the governments of Poland, Romania, Hungary, and the Slovak Republic. But the Indians are a small part of the large number of displaced people who are leaving Ukraine as the war rages on. Apart from the French, the Polish and the Indians, the Nigerians are also among the displaced people apart from a very large number of Ukrainians.
A third year MBBS student at Kyiv, Janagam Prashanth from Telangana has narrated the horrifying times they are living: they are eating one meal a day and are forced to survive on water for other meals.
“Since there is scarcity of drinking water, we are drinking hard water. There is scarcity of groceries. Only cash is accepted, not cards. And we are running short of cash too. Six of us live in a flat. So, we are managing with the meagre resources,” said Mr. Prashanth.
The State government teams who are coordinating the evacuation efforts said most of the calls they are receiving are from parents whose children are stuck in Kyiv.
Jiswana K.S., a fourth year MBBS student at Kharkiv National Medical University, told The Hindu over phone from Noukova underground metro station that officials of Israel and Pakistan had evacuated their students to Lviv, from where they crossed the border to Poland and were airlifted from there.
“From Kharkiv, there is hardly a one-and-a-half-hour-long journey to the nearest Russian city of Belgorod. A diplomatic talk with Russia will enable India to evacuate students from Kharkiv, where intense street fight is on after Russian troops entered the city early on Sunday,” said Ms. Jiswana, who hails from Karunagapally in Kollam.
“We have been staying in minus 2 degree Celsius in the underground metro station for four days. Luckily, power and water supplies and mobile networks are intact till now, but we are staring at an uncertain future. Some students set ablaze their books and clothes to save themselves from the chilly weather. We can’t survive like this for long,” said Akshaya Anilkumar, a second year MBBS student who hails from Changanassery.
(With inputs from K. C. Deepika in Bengaluru)