Sumy: Amidst Continuing Fighting, Stranded Indians Running Out of Patience – And Resources

New Delhi: With a humanitarian corridor announced by Russia in another part of Ukraine – and facing shortages of water and resources, Indian students in Sumy are running out of patience.

At around 5:30 am on Saturday, 18-year-old Mahek Sheikh woke up to the sounds of air sirens, forcing her to rush to the bunker in her hostel building. “This was the earliest,” she stated. 

Sheikh, along with over 700 Indian students, remain in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy, located near the Russian border, which has been on the frontline of fighting between the Ukrainian and Russian armies.

After Kharkiv, Sumy had the largest concentration of Indian students in the eastern part of the country.

The Indian embassy had issued an urgent advisory ordering Indian residents in Kharkiv to leave the city by Wednesday evening. Around 1,000 of them left by foot and train for the suburban settlement of Pisochyn, but there are about 300 still left in Kharkiv.

After the Indians in Kharkiv and Pisochyn, the largest group of students caught in a war zone are in Sumy.

At a media briefing on Friday, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “We remain concerned about Sumy.”

“We are looking at various options… But look, the conflict situation there and the fact that some of the contact points in terms of the two sides is posing significant obstacles in moving students out of the city, and that is the reason that we have not been able to do what we’ve been able to do in Pisochyn. Pisochyn is relatively a safer place,” he said.

The senior Indian diplomat said that ideally, India would like to have a “local ceasefire of some kind to get them out”, for which New Delhi was in talks with both sides.

The Russian defence ministry announced a humanitarian ceasefire for the two southern cities on Saturday. It raised hopes that there could be a breakthrough for Sumy, but there was no announcement till now.

Sheikh narrated that the water supply to her hostel had ended Thursday evening, after an explosion near Sumy State University. “Our room lights started flickering, and soon electricity and water supply went off. The whole city blacked out. Complete darkness,” she recounted.

It was the first time that electricity and water supply had been impacted since the start of the invasion. The power finally returned, but they have been without water since then. Earlier, the heavy snowfall was a source of worry, but now the students consider it a “blessing” as it is their only source of water supply. 

Another Indian student in Sumy, Shivangi, told The Wire that explosions have been occurring since morning. “I don’t understand why the Indian government is not helping us. Why is there no green corridor for us?” she asked, after Russia announced a partial ceasefire for the southern cities.

Asserting that they were running out of all kinds of resources, Shivangi added that they had only been told to wait.

Mahtab had posted an appeal on video on Friday morning, which had gone viral. After the reports of the ceasefire, many of the students in Sumy were thinking of taking the risk to get out of the conflict zone, he cautioned.

In another video posted on social media, students from Sumy State University stated that they had “lost patience” and would move out of the city at their own risk. 

“Today, we got news that Russia has opened a humanitarian corridor for two cities, one of them is Mariupol which is 600 km from here. Since morning, we have been constantly hearing sounds of bombarding, gunfight… We can’t wait any more. We are risking our lives and moving towards the border. If anything happens to us, all the responsibility will be with the government and the Indian embassy. If anything happens to us, Mission Ganga will be the biggest failure,” said an Indian student among a silent crowd holding several Indian flags aloft.

“This is the last video from the Sumy state university students, and we are risking our lives… Pray for us,” added another.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Mariyah (@mariyah__7)

Meanwhile, Mahek remains in Sumy, waiting to get out at the earliest. “We have been told that we will be evacuated today or tomorrow,” she said. But, she doesn’t know how the evacuation will occur amidst the intense fighting in the city. “It will be hard,” Mahek said.

These days of unimaginable hardship have forged a new clarity, believes the 18-year-old. “We are the generation who’s seen war only through movies and social media, but to see it with your own eyes is just something different. A part of you dies, and a part of you comes alive at the same time. It’s deadly when you’ve seen a city burn with your own eyes. But at the same time, we’re holding onto each other, and the slightest bit of hope in us, and I think that’s the best of humanity we’ll ever notice,” she said.

Featured image: Indian students stranded in Sumy. Photo: Screengrab via Twitter

This article was first published on The Wire.