'They Only Talk About Kharkiv': Indians in Ukraine's Sumy Urge Speedy Evacuation

Many Indian students are trapped in this small Ukrainian town with bombed roads and depleting supplies.

5 min read
Hindi Female

"All I want to say is that people are not talking about Sumy. They only talk about Kharkiv. There are so many Indians here. Please try to evacuate us. Please try to rescue students from the eastern side as well."

That is what Arindrom Phukon, a medical student stranded in Sumy, Ukraine, had to say while speaking to The Quint.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine entering its ninth day, hundreds of Indian students are still trapped in different cities and towns of Ukraine.

One such town is Sumy, a town 40 kilometre away from Ukraine’s north-east border that has been battered by Russian shelling.

"We have been stuck here for eight days, since the war began," Phukon said.

He also said that there are around 800 Indian students in Sumy, belonging to different parts of India.

There are students from African countries as well, like Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia among others.

They have taken refuge in the hostel buildings of Sumy State University since the invasion began.


'Food and Water Will Finish Soon'

Students say that there was a blast or an air strike that hit the water and electricity plants, disrupting the supply of both essential commodities.

Kuhu Katariya, a 25-year-old medical student from Panipat, Haryana, told The Quint that food was being supplied by a local company but she does not know when it will run out.

"Since yesterday, there has been no water in the hostel or anywhere in the city because last night there was a major air strike, leading to a citywide blackout."

Swetha Yadam, who studies medicine at the Sumy State University, also spoke to The Quint.

While talking about the situation on the ground, she said that the situation is very critical.

"We heard a very loud blast in the morning, and we had to run to the bunkers. We can't guarantee when we are safe, but we can't stay in the bunkers forever. Food and water will run out soon."

"We have stored water, but I don't know how long it will last," Phukon agreed.

They also said that while some supermarkets are open, there is no cash in the ATMs.

Additionally, the supermarket supplies are depleting fast, and "in a few days, everything will be gone."

"What will we do then?" asked Phukon.

Indeed, there have been instances in which students have resorted to collecting ice, in order to deal with the shortage of water.

'Completely Terrifying' 

Talking about the frequency of air strikes, an exhausted Katariya said that students hiding under bunkers to protect themselves from air strikes was not a very frequent occurrence, "but when it happens, it's terrifying."

"We cannot see Russian troops, but we can hear gunfire. We hear bomb blasts every two or three hours," she added.

The uncertainty is too much, they say. Phukon says that whenever an explosion occurs, it causes total panic among the students.

"While I'm talking to you, there is no shelling or firing. But last night I saw a bright light, and a huge explosion. That's the thing, We never know what will happen next."

Trying To Reach the Border

The Indian embassy, students say, had informed that 130 buses would be operating at the Belgorod border in Russia, around 64 kilometres from the hostel.

"But we are not getting permission from the Ukrainian government."

The Ukrainian authorities have asked the students to stay indoors due to the curfew that has been imposed in Sumy.

"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," claimed Katariya.

While evacuations have been carried out in the western part of Ukraine, with people fleeing to Poland and Slovakia, the same has not been possible in the eastern side due to heavy fighting and lack of transportation options.

"People in the western part of the country are being evacuated to Poland, but nobody is evacuating us. The Polish border is too far from Sumy. Roads are broken, and the chances of getting hurt in crossfire are very high," Yadam said.

"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," she said.

Yadam also claimed that Nigerian students had tried to reach the Belgorod border by foot, but the authorities did not let them pass.

"They left the hostel to get to the border, but then they came back."

Phukon too said that "the roads (that lead to the Russian border) are broken and unsafe."

"If we go, we won't come back alive. It is best to stay here than go by ourselves."


'We Are Losing Hope'

The students stranded in Sumy who spoke to The Quint, said that they are starting to lose hope.

"We are losing hope. We just want to meet our families again. It is the eighth day of war. We have zero hope that we are going to get out of here," Katariya lamented.

Phukon says that the only positive news he has received is that the Indian government is trying to rescue them via the Russian border.

According to the students, the Russians and the Ukrainians are not coming to an agreement about the evacuation of students and non-combatants.

"Our main concern is evacuation. Some are saying that Ukrainians are not allowing evacuation, while some that the Russian side is creating problems," Phukon asserted.

"For a safe passage, both sides need to come to an agreement, to a ceasefire. The Indian government has a good relationship with the Russian government, and so many Indians are stuck here. Why can't they just give us a safe passage?"

Even the Ministry of External Affairs stated on 4 March that it is "concerned about Sumy", while some buses have managed to reach Kharkiv and Pisochin.

Katariya concluded the phone call by saying that it's the "eighth day of the war, and while the entire country is being evacuated, only our city is left."

"What are we supposed to do?" she asked.

(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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