‘Our Mistake We Came Here To Study’: Sumy Students Dejected as Rescue Op Aborted

As the students were boarding the buses in Sumy, they were informed that the mission was aborted.

4 min read
Hindi Female

At 9 am on Monday, 7 March, around 500 Indian students from Sumy, a city in north-eastern Ukraine close to the Russian border, were asked to head towards evacuation buses. Caught in continuous shelling, evacuation of Indian students stuck in Sumy is posing new difficulties.

Renish, a contractor who is handling the welfare of the students, notified them on Sunday that the Indian authorities were sending buses to safely evacuate them to Poltava city. However, when they were boarding the buses, the contractor informed them that the mission was aborted.

'Not Safe to Leave'

“There were around five buses that could accommodate 80 students each. We were still boarding. I was already inside the bus and was finally happy to be rescued. Then our contractor Renish told us that we must go back to our hostels as Russian ceasefire has failed, and it wasn’t safe for us to leave,” says Jisna Jiji, a 5th-year medical student from Sumy State University.


Confirming Jisna’s account, Krishna Savant, a 4th-year medical student, says, “We were asked to be ready to leave anytime between 9-10 am. We were out of the hostel at sharp 9 am and the buses arrived around 10-ish. I was still in the queue and was getting ready to board. Then two Indian officials, who did not reveal if they were from the embassy or the evacuation mission, asked us to go back and wait for further details. They said that the Ukrainian and Russian ceasefire talk or some proposal had failed. I turned back and just went to the hostel,” she explains.

As the students were boarding the buses in Sumy, they were informed that the mission was aborted.

Ukraine Rejects Russia's Proposal

After an 1 hour 45 minutes-long call between French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin held on Sunday, Russia announced a ceasefire in Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy, and Kharkiv for humanitarian purposes.

The ceasefire was set to start at 9 am local time and students were all packed and ready to come home. On Monday morning, Ukraine rejected Russia’s proposal to let civilians flee to Russia or Belarus. The humanitarian corridors proposed by Russia were deemed “unacceptable” by Ukraine.

“Our people won’t go to Belarus and to Russia,” said Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister, as three of the six designated routes led to Belarus or Russia.

Vereshchuk said Ukraine has sent a counter-proposal to Russia to let civilains in Kyiv and Kharkiv escape towards western Ukraine.


Eating Once a Day, Need Sanitary Pads & Pain Meds

The students are now back in the bunkers after sounds of two shellings, and an alert on their phones asked them to move to safety. Jisna, Krishna, and rest of the students now await further instructions, and they tell me that they have ran out of supplies.

“We are eating once a day now. I went to three stores yesterday and the shelves were empty. My friend Safa needs sanitary pads and pain medication. However, most of us who are dealing with period cramps are not taking the last stock of medication because we also need food before taking them,” says Jisna.

As the students were boarding the buses in Sumy, they were informed that the mission was aborted.
The students have been informed that girls will be evacuated before the boys.

Krishna confirms that she hasn't eaten enough food for the past five days as the supplies are running out.

“We need to get out asap. There’s not enough water supply and we are running out of hygiene products. Girls are sharing sanitary pad stock with each other and we will be out of them soon. The water supply came yesterday. It’s been so cold for the past 2-3 days. It’s getting very difficult amidst continued shelling. There are nine floors and water is only available on the ground floor.”
Krishna Savant

'Bathroom Almost Unusable Now, Haven't Showered in 5 Days'

With the evacuation now on hold, the students are making desperate calls for a rescue.

“We have to get out now because the living conditions are deteriorating. Our contractor has been helpful with the limited resources but he can’t take care of hundreds of us. I haven’t taken a shower in five days and one of my friends melted snow to use it and we found out later that the area we shovelled the snow from was used as a urinating corner,” Jisna laughs out as she shares these details.

She adds, “We are trying to find funny moments to hang on to hope. If you see the bunker, you’ll know how horrible our situation is. The bathroom is almost unusable now. My friends are using cloth and a glass of water to wash themselves.”
As the students were boarding the buses in Sumy, they were informed that the mission was aborted.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed evacuation of Indian students.

Ministry of External Affairs in a statement said that PM Modi has “conveyed his deep concern for the safety and security of the Indian students still remaining in Sumy.”

Further, the statement reveals that Putin has briefed Modi “about the ongoing measures related to humanitarian corridors for facilitating evacuations of civilians including Indian students”.


Back in his hostel, stressed about the aborted evacuation mission, one student Dheeraj tells me, “Our biggest mistake was that we came here to study.”

The students confirm that the buses are still parked, and they hope to receive an update in the next few hours about resumption of evacuation operation.

(The author is an independent journalist based out of Paris. An alumna of University College Dublin, she writes about International Conflict and War.)

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Topics:  Russia Ukraine conflict   Sumy 

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