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4 Barriers to a Speedy Evacuation of Indian Students in Ukraine's Sumy

Indian students in Sumy, on 6 March, were told to "be ready to leave on short notice" by the Embassy in Ukraine.

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It is the twelfth day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and there are still around 800 Indian students stranded in Sumy, some of whom, while speaking to The Quint, claimed that all the attention of the media and the government is focused on big cities like Kharkiv and Kyiv.

Most of them belong to Sumy State University.

Finally, on 6 March, they were told to "be ready to leave on short notice" by the Indian Embassy in Ukraine.

"A team is stationed in Poltava – nearly a three-hour drive from Sumy – to coordinate the safe passage of the students," the embassy added in a tweet.

What's Making Evacuation From Sumy Difficult?

There are certain factors about the city that have made it difficult for the Government of India to carry out a speedy evacuation.

These are:

  • Location and weather

  • Shelling and bombing

  • Lack of transportation

  • Depleting supplies

All these reasons are interlinked and come up in one way or another in each of the subsequent sections.

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Location and Weather 

The first problem concerns location.

While most Ukrainians and even Indians are fleeing towards the western border of Ukraine to countries like Poland, Slovakia, and Romania, Sumy is located in the east, 350 kilometres away from Kyiv.

The western border, on the other hand, is more than 1,000 kilometers away from Sumy.

The Russian border that lies to the east of Sumy is around 60 kilometres, but reaching that border is close to impossible for two reasons.

Firstly, it's freezing in the city. The temperature has dropped below zero and the snow makes it hard to travel on foot.

Transportation options are not available due to Russian shelling and bombing.

Secondly, it's too dangerous to venture outside. The risks of getting caught in crossfire, or in a shell explosion, are just too high.

That brings us to the second reason.

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Shelling and Bombing

Arindam Bagchi, who is the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, had explained over the weekend, the challenges surrounding the safety of Indian students during the evacuation process.

"The main challenge remains the ongoing shelling there, violence, and the lack of transportation options. I think even more than transportation, it is about having a secure and safe way to get them (Indian students) out while they are not under threat," he had said.

The same was confirmed by students in Sumy who spoke to The Quint.

One such student, Kuhu Katariya, said that a curfew has been imposed in the city, but "even if the Ukrainian government and the Indian embassy told us to go, the snowfall is just too heavy. Russian snipers are operating in the area, and whoever tries to reach the border will risk getting shot".

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Lack of Transportation

There are two main causes of the lack of transportation options in Sumy for students to utilise and travel to the Russian border.

Firstly, the incessant bombing and shelling has led to the destruction of roads.

The roads have been hit by explosions to the extent that it's impossible for cars to be driven on them.

Even the rail tracks have been damaged by Russian attacks.

Walking is already a big problem due to the weather, as mentioned above.

A second, related reason, is that while in other Ukrainian cities, foreign residents used cabs and buses to quickly reach the border, the same can't be the case for Sumy.

"We can't even think of going to the western border, there is no mode of transportation. There are no buses and no taxis. No matter how much money we offer them, they won't go," Swetha Yadam, a medical student at Sumy State University, told The Quint.

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Depleting Supplies

A final issue concerns the depleting supplies of essential items that students possess – like food, water, and even electricity.

Not only are the supermarkets running out of essentials, but students also say that blasts and air strikes have damaged the water and electricity plants, disrupting the supply of both.

As Yadam told The Quint, "we can't guarantee when we are safe, but we can't stay in the bunkers forever. Food and water will run out soon."

There have been reports of students collecting ice to use as water for emergency purposes.

In such a situation, the Indian government, while attempting to evacuate Indian nationals from the country, is also playing against the clock.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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