‘The problem was, we trusted them’: Rajasthan students stuck in Ukraine say their universities misled them
As many as 23 more students of Rajasthan were evacuated from Ukraine via Bucharest in Romania Friday, taking the total figure to 57. The students will be reaching New Delhi and Mumbai soon, said a Rajasthan government press statement.
Earlier, 17 students were evacuated on February 23 and 17 others were evacuated on February 24. The Rajasthan government has appointed Commissioner of Rajasthan Foundation Dhiraj Srivastava as the nodal officer of the government to coordinate with the Union Ministry of External Affairs, the Indian government and Indian Embassy in Ukraine to ensure the safe return of the students from Rajasthan.
Srivastava, while talking to indianexpress.com, said, “We have been trying to evacuate students for a few days now. But there have been issues since the frequency and availability of flights was lesser than usual and the rates were higher. There were even issues with the transit visas required for the students.”
Earlier on February 24, Russia managed to invade parts of Ukraine and has been firing rockets, conducting air raids and dropping bombs. While some students from Rajasthan managed to come back on February 23, there are many who are still stuck and are living inside bunkers.
“The government should’ve brought these students back earlier. There has been a gross miscalculation in bringing them back. The decision was taken a lot later on February 22. Even Ukrainian universities made judgment errors and asked the students to stay calm and stay back,” Srivastava added.
Aryan Suman, a resident of Kota who studies MBBS in Chernivtsi city, returned on February 23. “When I left, everything was okay. All the roads and even Kyiv airport were normal. But my friends, who were scheduled to take off on February 24, were asked to not take their flights and go back to their hostels and flats by the universities.”
Anuj Chaudhary from Jaipur, an MBBS student in Ivano-Frankivsk, said, “My brother and I only came back because our father forced us to but I am glad that we did. When we left, everything was okay but as soon as we landed here and I switched on the internet, my phone was flooded with photos and videos of blasts sent by my friends in Ukraine. Ivano airport has been hit by a missile and my friends tell me that the Russian military can be seen everywhere. There is no money in the ATMs and even food is not available.”
Chaudhary added that the flight tickets are more than Rs 60,000 while usually, a round trip costs him Rs 40,000. “Even our university made an error of judgment. They kept saying nothing will happen, all this is political pressure and things will calm down and our online classes would continue. This was the major reason we weren’t looking to come back because 100 per cent attendance is required at our university and for every class we miss, we have to pay Rs 600.”
Students from Rajasthan stuck in different cities of Ukraine have been constantly hearing and seeing air raids and bombings. Many are staying in bunkers inside unheated underground Metro stations and basements of buildings with minimal food, water and no blankets.
Pushpendra Meghwal of Udaipur, a 5th-course MBBS student at V N Karazin Kharkiv National University, said, “At 5 am on February 24, we heard blasts and were asked to stay in underground bunkers ever since. The Metro stations are filled with people from all across the globe. There is no place to sleep here. We returned to our flats to get some supplies that we had stored in advance and saw the markets were shut and there were no people on the streets. We were at our flat when another attack took place on February 24, it was extremely loud and even the buildings were shaking. We have a limited amount of food and water that we had stored and once these are over, what will we do?”
At Kharkiv at the moment, Mohit Kalal from Dungarpur in Rajasthan, who has been pursuing MBBS from the Kharkiv National Medical University, said, “This is the worst situation I have ever witnessed or been a part of. My parents are extremely worried. I want to leave as soon as possible. Kharkiv is in a very bad state right now. When I went back to my flat Saturday, I heard loud explosions and saw smoke coming out from buildings. We mailed and tweeted to the Indian Embassy even before the war began but we got no response because they probably thought everything was okay. The government’s response was extremely delayed. Even the coordination between our university and the embassy was bad since our university kept telling us that everything was going to be okay and the classes were to continue normally. Our university asked us to stay back and convinced us that the situation wouldn’t escalate. The problem was, we trusted them.”
The Ukrainian government imposed martial law in the country Thursday. This would enable the authorities to restrict the movement of civilians, block rallies and even ban political parties in view of national security. This move means the military will be enforcing the law and not the police.
Akshat Agarwal, a first-year MBBS student from O O Bogomolets National Medical University in Kyiv, a resident of Jaipur, said since the martial law was imposed, they couldn’t go out at all since they would be shot at if they did.
“We are stuck in a place and don’t know how long would it take to get out. We have no food or water and we have been asked to keep calm but how can we? It is scary and horrifying, my roommate was at the Kyiv airport when the Russian military attacked the airport, he is safe but we are all so scared for him.”
Talking about the situation in Kyiv, Agarwal said everything, including markets and transportation, has been shut down and there is a sense of fear in every student at his hostel. “We are constantly seeing fighter jets and planes outside our windows. There are street sirens here that go off ahead of attacks and as soon as they go off, we run to the basement. For the last few hours, it has been going off every 5 minutes. We were also told that our building would be attacked by missiles and we evacuated and went to the basement but thank god nothing happened.”
Agarwal also talked about the difficulties he and his friends were facing in getting in touch with the Indian Embassy. “There are a lot of helpline numbers provided to us but there is a rare chance that they get answered or we get a proper response. Contacting the Indian Embassy has been extremely difficult. Even the Rajasthan government has not contacted us directly.”
After Ukraine closed its airspace, the Indian government sought to evacuate students from Ukraine’s neighbouring borders of Poland, Romania, Hungary and the Slovak Republic. The Indian government has asked students to either reach the borders on their own or wait for transportation arrangements made by the government.
The government, Saturday, issued an advisory for Indian citizens to not move to any border posts without prior coordination with the Indian government officials at the border posts.
The advisory said, “The situation at various border checkpoints is sensitive and the Embassy is working continuously with our Embassies in our neighbouring countries for coordinated evacuation of our citizens. The embassy is finding it increasingly difficult to help the crossing of those Indian nationals who reach border checkpoints without prior intimation.” It added that those residing in the eastern sector and in the western cities of Ukraine should remain where they are.
Travelling to the Poland border with three of his friends in a car from Kyiv, Aakash Choudhary, an MBBS student of O O Bogomolets National Medical University, said, “The situation in Kyiv is extremely bad since the Russian troops have surrounded the city. There is smoke everywhere because of constant bombings and flights and tankers of the Russian troops can also be seen. It got really scary because there was only one way to get out of Kyiv and there were talks of closing that and also shutting down the internet. We decided to leave because this was the only feasible option we saw.”
While the government has made arrangements from the neighbouring countries, a lot of students are facing an issue in reaching the Ukrainian borders. Meghwal said, “I live in Kharkiv and the distance to Poland’s border from here is 13 hours. With no one on the streets and all transportations closed, how will we reach there?”
Agarwal said, “The government’s arrangement is only possible after we reach the border but we are not even allowed to step out here. Kyiv is in the middle of Ukraine and to reach any border, we need proper transportation. The situation here is extremely tense. This is not beneficial at all at the moment.”
Meghwal said that while they are constantly in contact with the Indian Embassy, they want the Embassy to help them get a proper shelter. “We understand that the evacuation process takes time and it might take longer than expected but we want the Indian Embassy to help Indians get a proper shelter and more food and water since we will soon be left with none.”
Another MBBS student, studying at Vinnytsia National medical university, said, “We are not safe here. We have been living in the bunkers since last night with no food, no water and no blankets. The Embassy is telling us that the evacuation plan for students will be from Romania, Poland and Hungary but how can we reach these borders if there is no facility of transportation. We want to come back home.”