Before Russia declared war on Ukraine on 24 February, Indian students of Kharkiv National Medical University had tried to leave the country, three students who were trapped with slain Karnataka student Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar told The Quint. They, however, could not leave the campus as flight charges were unaffordable, and ranged between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh, they said.
Naveen Shekharappa died in Russian shelling while he was out to buy groceries, on 1 March.
Speaking to The Quint, student V Amith said, "We usually go home once in two years or once in four years. The situation worsened and we could not afford the flight rates." Amith has been trapped in a bunker under his university hostel for eight days. Most Indian students of the medical university have been staying in Ukraine on student loans, they said.
Parents of some students said university authorities too had assured their wards that a war will not break out.
'Evacuation Attempts Late'
One student who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that she had not expected the situation to worsen within days. The last time she stepped out of her hostel was on 20 February to take a stroll. "Ukrainian authorities assured us that we were safe. Until the situation escalated, for most of us, it seemed calm," the student said, explaining how Russia-Ukraine conflict took foreign students by surprise.
However, students who hail from Karnataka said that they had informed Indian authorities of their worrisome plight, days ago. "We were told to move into a bunker on 24 February. Through our friends, student coordinators and family members we had informed authorities that we will not be able to make it to the border for evacuation," said Suman Krishnamurthy, another student.
In the warzone, students are being expected to reach safe-spots on their own, they complained.
This, even after international press reporting that neighbouring countries, including Poland, have been preventing non-European students from entering their territory.
Evacuation should be done from the existing place of refuge, they insisted. "It is not safe to go out. How do they expect us to travel over 30 kilometers to ask for help or transit?" Krishnamurthy said. Even evacuation procedure is not yet clear to them as the Indian embassy authorities have been unresponsive, they said.
"We were told to evacuate only after two days of shelling. Till then, the instruction was to stay put at the place of refuge or the bunker," another student said. In Kharkiv, Indian students have been going without food for days, Amith said. Rations have not reached most bunkers, he added.
Back home, in Karnataka, worried parents have been petitioning Indian authorities to help their children.
'Indian Authorities, MPs Unresponsive'
Naming BJP National Secretary CT Ravi, Prakash Raj Reddy, father of Praveen Raj Reddy, said, "My son was complaining that they did not have food. They also did not have any place to sleep. Why are Karnataka politicians not trying to help the students out?" The parent also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for help, he said.
"If you get the students out through Russia, they will survive. Or else, we fear that they will all die," the inconsolable father cried. Naively he said, "The PM should ask Russia to stop the war."
Prime Minister Modi, however, has been holding talks with both Russia and Ukraine, without clarifying India's diplomatic stand on the war which has put Indian lives in danger.
Another parent Sridhar Krishnamurthy, father of Suman Sridhar said, "We wrote a letter to (Minister of Parliamentary Affairs) Pralhad Joshi three days ago." Meanwhile, Joshi, who is also the BJP's Dharwad MP, has reportedly issued a statement on 1 March that, "90 percent of students who study medicine abroad fail to clear qualifying examination in India." The minister's statement is being condemned for covertly belittling medical students trapped in Ukraine.
V Venkatesh, father of V Amith said, "Naveen was with my son for the past eight days. He had gone to get food. Of course, if they are hungry they will go in search of food." Venkatesh too said that he had petitioned Union Minister Pralhad Joshi.
So far, just over 20 students from Karnataka have reached the state using India's evacuation measures.
'Urgent Help Needed'
For most students, living in bunkers has been tough. "There is no inch to sleep as over 20 of us are crammed into one spot. It is difficult especially for girl students because they are not used to being in such close proximity with men who are not known to them," a woman medical student said. However, students of different nations have been "kind and accommodating," through "the suffering that we are enduring," she added.
Indian authorities should reach out through diplomatic channels to ensure evacuation, the students demanded.
"We have been messaging and calling our parents daily. Why are the Indian authorities not responding when we call or message them?" student Krishnamurthy said. Several students across Ukraine have been complaining of unresponsive Indian authorities. "We hope we survive this. We hope our friends survive this," Krishnamurthy said, as he got ready to get rations.