‘Our morale is broken, the hostel we stayed in was destroyed in an airstrike’: Indian students stuck in Pisochyn share ordeal
Desperate to return home safe, many among the group of more than 700 students who raced against time to reach one of the safe houses on Wednesday evening on foot from Kharkiv station after failing to board a train, have lost hope.
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The lack of communication or guarantee from the Indian authorities on their return prospects further adds to their plight. Meanwhile, the second batch of more than 100 Ukrainian students arrived in Ahmedabad early Thursday morning. They were received by State Education Minister Jitu Vaghani at Circuit House in Gandhinagar. Of the 107 students who returned on Thursday, 42 were from Surat.
Back in Pisochyn, 19-year-old Bavendrasinh Chauhan, a third-year medical student from Gujarat who was leading the Indian student march on Wednesday, said: “Most of the students with us, including more than 350 to 400 girls, lost hope now. Our morale is broken. How much can we do? Until now we had helped each other to support each other mentally and but beyond this point, we are not able to bear it. It was heartbreaking to hear today that the hostel where we had taken refuge was destroyed in an airstrike yesterday shortly after we left.
The group of 170 students whom Bavendrasinh led on Wednesday from the bunkers where they had taken refuge for six days before descending to Kharkiv railway station to board a train as instructed by the authorities, were disappointed to see the rush to the station making it impossible for them to board a train. Carrying a backpack on their shoulders with a maximum of a packet of food and a bottle of water, the students walked more than 20 km in a single day on Wednesday, first from their bunkers at the station and then to Pisochyn.
More than 700 students camp at the base in Pisochyn, including around 20 from Gujarat while others come from states like Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
“Only yesterday we marched more than 25 km running towards Pisochyn amid bad shelling, dropped missiles, airstrikes and crossfire near us. A curfew was also imposed. It was a horrible experience. People were scared. Ukrainian soldiers helped us and also covered us for a distance of about 4 km,” said Ayush Bhatia, 21, a fifth-year medical student from Godhra.
Another 19-year-old student, Akash Dhiman from Delhi, a freshman who has been in Ukraine for seven months, told The Indian Express that freshmen are the ones losing hope with every passing day.
“We are a group of 15-16 students who have been together for a week. Walking to save our lives was very scary as there was shelling near us. We tried to shelter and scatter, but our elders guided us and gave us hope and support. For the last 3-4 days we have been told that Kharkiv is a priority, but what we are doing is running from one shelter to another to save our lives. The students have lost hope and the situation is very bad,” Akash said.
The students complain about the lack of communication and help in seeking any type of information from the Indian authorities.
“We learned from a tweet that we had to run to one of the camps within three hours, which seemed very difficult in the wake of the lack of additional information on directions. Many students panicked and We also called the Indian authorities on the Operation Ganga hotline numbers available on social media but instead of any help we are being asked irrelevant questions such as how we are spelling our names.Despite our repeated requests to help guide the way forward, on curfew details, we were asked for irrelevant details,” Bavendrasinh told The Indian Express.
Students have also complained of discrimination in boarding trains. “When we arrived at Kharkiv station at 8 am, the shelling started. We ran to a bunker, in a nearby underground metro station, then returned to the station to see that Indians and Africans were not allowed on the train,” Ayush said.
Pleading to report their fate to Indian authorities, the students said Pisochyn was their last hope. “Everyone’s morale is badly shaken. If nothing happens quickly, we will completely crack. There is no help from the embassy, no communication. We were repeatedly told that the authorities informed us to leave in advance, but was it that easy. There is no one from the embassy here at the camp and we haven’t heard anyone offer even some kind of emotional support and reassurances. Moreover, all the figures shared by the authorities to get help turn out to be wrong or not working,” Harsh Valand, a sixth-grade student from Nadiad in Gujarat told The Indian Express.
While waiting to return home, just two months before his medical degree, Harsh said the situation is life-threatening in every way. “Until now we supported our juniors, but now we have lost all hope. Please report this to the authorities back home and help us return home with our families.