After 32 hours of perilous journey from strife-torn Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, to Bucharest in Romania, a group of students narrate their horrific experience of evacuation. They say that Indian Embassies in Ukraine as well as in Romania have left them to God’s mercy. At present, they are staying with over 500 Indian students in a rehabilitation centre in Bucharest and they have no money to come back to India.
“Romanian people are offering us food, chocolates, things of day-to-day need and that’s how we are surviving,” Deepanshu Gautam, a 3rd-year MBBS student, who made it to Bucharest with his friends from a shelter home in Kyiv, said.
“First, we travelled from Ivano-Frankivsk to Kyiv hoping to get a flight to India on February 24 but the day we reached, the war started and airspace was closed,” Gautam said.
They took shelter in a school close to Indian Embassy with many other students. When their repeated request to the Embassy to get them evacuated fell on deaf ears, they decided to travel on their own.
“With three Nigerian students, we became 10 and decide to leave for the Romanian border. The moment we came to know that curfew has been relaxed, we arranged a taxi for ourselves at around 1 pm on February 26. It dropped us at a railway station. We had to pay Rs 4,500 for only 6 km of the journey,” He said.
They reached the station and saw a train was about to leave for Ivano-Frankivsk. When they tried to get in, the train ticket examiners didn’t let them enter saying that it was a special train and they couldn’t travel. But they forced their way into the train.
“We all ten students pushed our bags inside and forcibly boarded the train as we had no option despite the stiff opposition from the TTE,” Deepak Kumar another student in the group said. They completed 12 hours of a tiring and sleepless journey without food and water to reach Ivano-Frankivsk.
“We were literally dying for food and water. We hired another taxi in Ivano-Frankivsk and after five hours of journey reached the Ukraine-Romania border. There was utter chaos and we had to leave our taxi 6 km away from the border,” Kumar added. On the way, they were stopped many times by Ukrainian Army who checked their bags and passports.
They all walked in the extreme cold for about 6 km to the immigration checkpoint. Amidst the chaos, there were a lot of Ukrainian citizens who had come there with food and water to distribute to people trying to cross the border. They had some food and water while walking and they reached the immigration point at around 9 PM. “It was local food which normally we don’t eat at all. But we so hungry that we ate whatever we got,” Kumar said.
Students said that the Ukrainian Army was unable to manage the surging crowd and to scare people they were firing in the air. They were misbehaving with students and beat whosoever they wanted.
“We saw students being beaten and dragged to the ground. We were scared. They did misbehave with us and pushed us to move forward in an extremely rude manner. Still, we felt lucky as they were not as brutal with us as they were with other students.” A student, who was part of another group evacuating from Ukraine, told Outlook adding, “Please don’t publish my name as I have to come back to this country again to complete my education.”
Somehow, they managed to cross the border and enter Romania after completing immigration formalities. While there was not a single Indian officer to receive or guide any student, it was a pleasant surprise for them to see Romanian citizens standing there to welcome everyone with warmth and love.
“They were distributing food, chocolates, water and even nice blankets as it was almost freezing cold. One can take as many blankets as he or she needs,” Gautam said.
He came to know from other students that the Indian Embassy had asked students to assemble at a petrol pump near the border on the Romanian side but there was no one to tell them what to do from there.
“While we were waiting for a bus, snowfall started and everyone standing there got wet. We were literally shivering and dying for shelter. The Embassy had arranged buses but they were very few in numbers and unable to handle the crowd,” he said.
After waiting for hours, their turn came and they were plied to the rehabilitation point on the night of February 27. Gautam said, “There is no communication with Embassy, no facility for food and water and no information about how we will reach India. Romanian citizens are coming and offering us food here.”
“Some of my friends, who have money, got their tickets booked and left for the airport. But we are helpless. We have asked our family members to help us get out from here,” Kumar said adding, “Please tell our government to do something for us. There are thousands still stranded in various parts of Ukraine. We pray for their safety.”