“We are served a small plate of food at the table for six students. It is not sufficient for even one student. If we survive Russian bombing then starvation will kill us,” Deepanshu Gautam, a third-year MBBS student sheltering in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, stated while pleading for evacuation. Thousands of Indians are said to be stuck in Ukraine after Russia bombarded the country.
Gautam, whose family lives in New Delhi’s Chandini Chowk, broke up and sobbed as he spoke to Outlook over the phone from an indoor basketball arena at a school where he and 300 other students had taken refuge.
“Yesterday, we were served a small plate of rice with very little quantity of Dal Makhani as if it was just sprinkled over the rice plate. Students have been divided into a group of six and each group gets a similar plate to eat,” he said adding that whatever food students had brought from home have finished now.
“Sir, I am begging for my life, sir. Please tell the Indian government to get us evacuated from here as soon as they can. We can hear the sounds of the bomb explosions. We are extremely terrified sir,” Gautam told Outlook on a WhatsApp call with his other friends heard in the backdrop pleading for the same. He said that 400 meters away from his building explosions were happening.
“The only relief is that I have been told that since we are close to the embassy, this area will not be bombed,” he said adding that all the students have been strictly advised not to venture out else they might be shot at.
Most of these students come from different regions of the city and colleges like Ivano Frankvisk National Medical University and Kharkiv Institute of Medicine and Biomedical Science. On February 24, they landed in Kyiv to catch their planes to Delhi. However, before they could arrive at the airport, Russia launched a military campaign against Ukraine, and the country’s airspace was closed to civilian flights. They had no choice but to seek sanctuary in order to preserve their lives.
“On February 24, we had a flight to India so we came here in the morning from Ivano Frankvisk, a city about 550 km away from Kyiv in Western Ukraine. When we came out of the station, we saw Ukrainian army with heavy assault rifles and guns all around,” Another 2nd-year year MBBS student, staying with Gautam, said.
“They told us that martial law has been imposed in the country as the war has begun. We tried to go back to our city but by the time all train services were suspended,” he added.
Luckily, they got an online paid taxi service that was still available and somehow reached Indian Embassy in Kyiv. “We saw a lot of other students had already gathered here,” he said.
Students claim that while embassy staff are nice enough to provide them with lodging and food, the quantity is insufficient to satisfy their hunger, and they are on the verge of starvation.
“I don’t want to blame the embassy officials as we know that we are stuck in a war zone. They are nice and helpful. They are telling us that they are trying to get us evacuated but there is no certain date given to us and everything is on a verbal assurance,” Gautam said.
When asked why he hadn’t fled the country sooner, he explained that his college required students to take offline classes and wouldn’t let them go. Another student, who hails from Kharkiv in the country’s north-east, accused the Indian Embassy for failing to provide timely information to pupils.
“The initial advisory that was released from the Indian Embassy on February 15 asked the students that those who wanted to go could leave the country. It was only on February 22 that it asked all the students to evacuate immediately. The very next day we got our tickets booked and planned to leave but it was too late then,” he said.
Students claim they’ve been told to use as little power as possible, so they turn off the lights at night and live in the dark. “We charge our mobile phones for somehow,” another youngster explained.
They don’t know how many of them are stranded in Kyiv’s such sites in total, but the figure might be in the thousands.
From February 26, the Ministry of External Affairs will operate special flights from the major cities of Ukraine’s neighboring countries, such as Bucharest in Romania and Budapest in Hungary. Despite the fact that the MEA has said that students would not be charged for evacuation, many students say they are unsure.