Indian students woke up to air raid sirens and a suddenly well-lit sky and soon all hell broke loose on the streets of Kyiv, the capital of war-hit Ukraine, as some of them narrated their ordeal on Thursday with frantic people rushing to petrol stations, banks and departmental stores in chock-a-block traffic.
“Tough times don’t last but tough people do,” Ashna Pandita, a third-year medical student, told PTI from her hostel in Kyiv over phone. Students are not able to exchange their currency as Ukrainian stores have stopped trading dollars. The Indian mission in Kyiv was planning to relocate Indian nationals to the western border and has advised them to keep their passport and necessary documents with them all the time.
“We woke up at 4 AM with a bang as we saw skies lit up followed by air sirens,” said Pandita who studies at Taras Shevchenko National Medical University along with her twin brother Ansh. Besides Taras Shevchenko, two other universities — Bogomolets and UAFM — house a maximum number of Indian students in various streams.
There was panic in the morning air as “we saw military students studying with us packing their bags to join the forces and there was a clear instruction that no one will be making any video recordings of movement of troops,” Pandita said.
Bunkers in the hostel were opened and all students were directed to move there in case air sirens were sounded. The same drill has been started in all Metro stations. Aikin Ash Muthoo, also a third-year student from the same college hailing from Jamshedpur, says initially he thought that an electric transformer had blown up but the confirmation of Russia carrying out an attack came from India.
“My parents called up and informed me that there was an attack, news enough to pull me out of the bed to understand the situation as we were preparing to leave for home and were awaiting our turn on Air India flights,” Muthoo said. He said immediately the hostel staff started furnishing bunkers in the hostel so that people could be accommodated there in case of air raids by Russia. The hostel has around 40 Indians and the exact number of students was not available.
“We immediately rushed to the departmental store and carried back ration for two weeks and some water to survive for another week or so,” he said, adding the exchange of dollars had been stopped. All the students were keeping an eye on the advisories issued by the Indian mission in Ukraine with the latest being that all flights for evacuation had been closed and alternative arrangements were being finalised so that “Indian nationals can be relocated to the western part of the country”.
A fifth-year student at the same hostel, Shahshank Matta, who hails from Bengaluru and manages the Indian students, said, “We are not sure about what is happening other than that we will be getting evacuated to the western part of the country.” Akash Kaul, studying in fifth year at Bogomolets Medical University, said that panic was high on the streets of Kyiv from early hours of the morning. “It took me nearly three hours to cover a distance which normally takes 15 minutes by cab,” he said.
“I was awaken to the news by my father and immediately I rushed to my apartment to keep my passport and other documents ready,” Kaul who was at his friend’s place said. He said while travelling he saw several Ukrainian nationals carrying bags and suitcases were moving out of Kyiv to safer places, “probably to western part of the country and seeking refuge in neighbouring Poland”.
Kaul had to change his schedule after Air India announced that its evacuation flight had been cancelled due to the closure of air space over Ukraine. Accompanied by Sampath Ganesh, hailing from Tamil Nadu, Nitin Roy, hailing from Kerala but at present settled in Rajasthan, and Pranjal Singh from Jaunpur, Kaul, who is staying in a rented apartment in Vidrandnyi Ave in Kyiv, is keeping a close watch on the advisory issued by the Indian mission. “I hope that something will be worked out soon,” he added.
Back in India, the father of Ashna and Ansh, Anil Pandita is anxious and constantly in touch with the children. “They have limited stores and I hope things ease up soon.” He said that airlines escalated the ticket prices to an extent that it became virtually impossible for a middle-class family to afford them. “I had booked them for March 6 but now I don’t know whether they can make it,” Anil Pandita said in a choked voice.
Muthoo’s father Aklesh said in a statement to PTI that they were worried as the children are short on cash as ATMs are not working and soon their supplies will come to an end. The parents made an appeal to the government to evacuate the Indian students from Ukraine at the earliest.