Bengaluru: More than a hundred people crammed into metro carriages with a damp smell to them. With food scarce, hunger has kicked in. With Russia’s attack on Ukraine in full swing, anxiety has been soaring among the Indian students hiding inside Kharkiv metro stations in the Eastern region of Ukraine.
Some complain of the delayed response from the Indian embassy; others feel cornered and left behind. Agonising discord continues to grow among the students as Russian forces inch closer to the capital city.
Their voices echo a single narrative — that of getting back home.
Since yesterday morning, Avigna has been awake. At 5.30 am on February 24, she woke up to a series of shockwaves. There were three consecutive blasts, Avigna recalled. And a fourth detonation. Sirens blared across the city of Kharkiv, and buildings started to tremble. Avigna saw the morning sky glimmer in shades of red accompanied by loud bangs.
Russia had declared an invasion.
“I was supposed to fly back home today. My bags were packed. But at around noon, instead of the airport, we were hauled inside metro stations and bunkers,” she said.
More than 3,000 Indian students are hiding inside the metro stations across Kharkiv. After the initial explosions – which went on over a span of six hours – the students managed to grab what they could and rush into the bunkers.
Akshay, a student of Kharkiv National Medical University, is currently trapped inside the Botanichnyi Sad metro station. “We have lost the sense of time,” he said. “The temperature inside is less than 3 degrees Celsius. When we arrived here yesterday, none of us had enough blankets,” he added.
Today morning, when Akshay had stepped out to grab a jacket, the sirens blared again. “As soon as I stepped out, three consecutive sirens that signal immense threat got me running back into the station,” he added.
The students living inside the metro station have just two days of ration left. Some say the supply will get over within a night. With minimal water supply, bundled up against the cold, they are desperately waiting for support from the Indian government.
Noida-based Shikha’s sister is studying MBBS at Sumy State University. One week ago, the Indian Embassy officials had assured Shikha of her sister’s safety. But over the last two days, Shikha has not been able to connect to the officials, she said.
“The initial advisories mentioned the students can stay back whose stay is not deemed essential when other countries had already started evacuating their citizens. And the next advisory suddenly asks the students to leave temporarily. How are we supposed to arrange everything in a few days?” she said.
Shriya*, a student in Sumy, said she had called the embassy officials yesterday. “I had called the team in Poland, according to the latest emergency contact list. But they said they have no knowledge of Indian students in Sumy. They have no information about us,” she added.
Manju, who is stuck at Peremoha metro station in Kharkiv reports shelling close to the station. He said last night, a blast went off nearby that shook the entire station. The sky had turned red in the night, and several people broke down, he said. Peremoha is closer to the border compared to other stations, and Manju fears the most.
Students trapped in the stations have already started to get sick. Avigna is running a sore throat while her friends lay on the damp floor with fever.
“Students in Lviv, one hour drive from the Poland border, are still stuck as we speak. How do we expect us in Kharkiv, which is 1,000 km away from Lviv, to be rescued? We are on our own now,” Akshay said.
Avigna reports a more distressing scene. She said multiple civilian apartments have already been bombed in Kharkiv, and that Ukrainian flags have been replaced with Russian ones across the city.
“Please help us,” was all Anjana, who has been trapped in a bunker for the last 26 hours, could type.
As snowfall commences in parts of Kharkiv and temperatures plummet, the students can only fill multiple google forms sent by the embassy officials and stare at one of the four exits in each station. For others scrambling for food and water, it is a long wait.
Souptik Datta is a student, a photojournalist, and a storyteller, who believes in bringing truth to people through new media, often in long-form. He is interested in issues related to human rights, politics, and the environment. When not working or studying, he likes solo-traveling.