Indian students, studying in various parts of Ukraine, woke up to air raid sirens and smoke-filled clouds on Thursday morning when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country had decided to carry out a military operation in the eastern part of Ukraine to defend separatists in the Donbas region. The sound of air raid sirens, clouds of black smoke, explosions and chaos were reported by cities across Ukraine and Indian students were witness to it.
The Free Press Journal spoke to some Indian students in Ukraine who had been planning to leave the country sooner or later, but found themselves in jeopardy as the Ukrainian government had shut down the country’s airspace. However, Indian authorities are reportedly activating alternate evacuation routes for students and other nationals in Ukraine.
“I saw fighter planes flying over my hostel,” said a student in Dnipro, who was planning to leave the country on February 26 but is unsure of the circumstances now. “I saw a cloud of smoke above the city and have no idea what is going on,” said another student in the city.
While some students recalled instances that weren’t life-threatening, others witnessed scarier visuals. “Black smoke, like the aftermath of an explosion, was visible outside my hostel in Ivano-Frankivsk,” a student said. He is relying on the embassy for further updates in the hopes of being able to get out of Ukraine and meet his parents. One student heard air raid sirens ringing out across Kyiv near the Golden-Domed Monastery in Ukraine, which made her realise the severity and scale of the tension that was now affecting innocent students like her. Several students also reported bunkers being readied for students in hostels to take shelter in case of war or the outbreak of violence.
“The present situation in Ukraine is highly uncertain. Please maintain calm and remain safe wherever you are, be it in your homes, hostels, accommodations or in transit,” the Indian Embassy in Kyiv tweeted on Thursday morning to assure Indian nationals, especially students, of their safety.
‘Universities shut down, online classes for an unspecified period’
Universities in Ukraine have also now opted to continue with online classes for an indefinite period.
“The University of Kyiv has shut down for today (Thursday). We also have been told that there will be no online classes for the time being,” said Pranjal Aggarwal, who is studying in the University of Kyiv and came back to India a few days ago. Another student, Waseem Khan, added that Lviv Medical University in Ukraine has also shifted to online classes for an unspecified period, though in an earlier statement by the university to its students, it required them to attend summer practicals between the months of June-July. Students studying at the Dnipropetrovsk State Medical Academy said that information about their classes for the upcoming days would be conveyed later.
Many students who were supposed to travel back to India saw their flights cancelled as the Ukrainian airspace has been closed. After the departure of the Air India flight from Delhi on Thursday morning, the Ukrainian authorities issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen), which stated that flights of civil aircraft within Ukraine “are restricted due to potential hazard for civil aviation”.
Anxious but hopeful parents
Parents of Indian students stranded in Ukraine are worried about their children’s safety and are willing to go any lengths to ensure their safe return.
Mohammad Shafi, parent of a student stuck in the war-hit country, told The Free Press Journal that his son, who is currently at the Uzhhorod National University, tried to book an Air India ticket but was unable to do so due to the unavailability of flights. “Though the university has permitted the students to leave, there are no tickets. As bombs were dropped on the Kyiv Airport, multiple students who had booked their flights for today, have now been given shelter by the Indian Embassy for the time being,” claimed Shafi, who added that because of the cash withdrawal limits announced by the Ukrainian government, many people have lined up outside the ATMs in the city.
Another parent, Tehsin Ali from Uttar Pradesh, said that he had contacted the PMO’s (Prime Minister Office) helpline number for information regarding students’ safety in Ukraine and was told by them that there were plans to airlift the students by Thursday night. Ali further added that many parents in the state, who had sent their children to Ukraine for higher education, were extremely worried and planned to travel to Delhi if things were not resolved soon. “As the authorities have assured that our children will be brought back safely, we hope to see some action on the same,” added Ali, whose son studies at Ivano-Frankivsk University.
The Indian ambassador to Ukraine, Partha Satpathy, in a statement urged Indians in the country to stay calm and face the situation with fortitude, and asked them to stay back in their familiar locations. “As of now, the Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, and the Embassy of India are seized of the situation and working on a mission mode to find a solution to this difficult situation,” the ambassador said in his statement.