Thousands of Indian students have been hiding in bunkers, basements, apartments and underground metro stations amidst the sound of bomb explosions, airstrikes and war sirens in Kharkiv, Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine. These students had gone there to do their six-year MBBS course and couldn’t return to India before February 24 when Russia announced its military offensive against Ukraine.
Outlook spoke to more than half a dozen students who have taken shelter in various locations in Kyiv and Kharkiv, the two cities where an intense fight between the Russian and Ukrainian forces are on. All these students have pleaded with the government to get them evacuated as soon as possible as they are in deep danger and anything can happen at any moment.
These students provide multiple reasons due to which they couldn’t leave and are now stuck in a life-threatening situation.
Vague evacuation advisory from Indian Embassy
Students who spoke to Outlook complained that the Indian Embassy did not inform them ahead of time about the deteriorating situation and the impending crisis. They say that the US and other European nations sounded an alarm to their citizens much before the war started and helped them evacuate safely.
“Indian Embassy’s advisory, issued on February 15, didn’t reflect the gravity of the situation as it said “students may consider leaving temporarily. It should have rather said that “students are advised to leave immediately.” The February 15 advisory made many of us think that the situation might not turn so alarming so soon,” a student from Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University, who is yet to be evacuated, said.
Indian Embassy’s February 15 advisory, posted on its Twitter handle, read “In view of the uncertainties of the current situation in Ukraine, Indian Nationals in Ukraine, particularly students whose stay is not essential may consider leaving temporarily. Indian Nationals are also advised to avoid all non-essential travel to and within Ukraine.”
It added, “Indian nationals are requested to keep the Embassy informed about the status of their presence in Ukraine to enable the Embassy to reach them where required.”
Five days later, on February 20, the Embassy wrote, “In view of the continued high levels of tensions and uncertainties with respect to the situation in Ukraine, all Indian nationals whose stay is not deemed essential and all Indian students, are advised to leave Ukraine temporarily.”
Air India, other airlines raised the ticket price unrealistically
Air India and many other Airlines raised the one-way fare from Kyiv to Delhi more than three times when the tension escalated between Ukraine and Russia. “I used to pay about Rs 25,000 from Kyiv to Delhi earlier but when I checked on February 21 after reading the Indian Embassy’s advisory, the airline quoted Rs 72,000, almost three times more than the usual fare,” a student stuck in Kharkiv said.
“Since we cannot afford to pay so much money, I booked a flight for February 28, which cost me about 50,000. Many students, like me, wanted to save money, so they booked their flights in advance dates but the airspace was closed on February 24 and we couldn’t leave,” he added. Air India refused to comment on it.
Colleges imposed irrational conditions on students
Many students said that college didn’t allow them to go for online classes. They insisted students take offline classes and remain present on the college campus. They even warned students that if they returned to their home countries and didn’t come back within 15 days, their admissions will be terminated.
“The vague advisories along with colleges insistence to remain present in campus gave an impression to a lot of students that things might be on the improving side and many of them decided to stay back,” the student, quoted above, said.
Time-consuming admission process for fresh students
Bhavishya Vats, a resident of Palam Vihar in Delhi had gone to get admission in Kharkiv National Medical University in Kharkiv on February 14 and it took ten days to complete the admission process. He was lucky to get a flight on February 23 and he landed in Delhi on the morning of February 24, the day war began.
Vats said that colleges refused to take documents and fees online and asked all the students to arrive on the campus for admission formalities.
“They have a tedious admission process which takes a lot of time. Also, in the wake of the tension, the colleges should have stated the online admission process rather than offline. This wouldn’t have caused so much of a problem for fresh students who went to Ukraine at the time when they should have left the country,” Vats said.
Colleges didn’t postpone examinations despite the crisis
Many students, already studying in various years of their 6-year MBBS course, said that their examination schedules were never postponed and they were asked to prepare for that.
A 4th-year student from Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University said, “I had to stay back because of my examinations. Colleges should have postponed it and asked the students to leave but I am really surprised why they didn’t do that,” he asked.
Other students also narrated similar reasons for their stay back. “I think the Embassy should have spoken to the Ukrainian government which should have further directed the colleges or issued a circular for the postponement of the examination process,” another student said.