Indian students in Ukraine say advisory a little too late

The dry humour in Arpit Katiyar’s words leaves one chuckling but the second year MBBS student of Ukraine’s VN Karazin Kharkiv National University is aware that it will have little effect on his anxious parents back home, in Kanpur.

“There were celebrations on Valentine’s Day. Locals are not betraying any anxiety either,” Arpit told The Indian Express over telephone from Kharkiv, an industrial town in eastern Ukraine, barely 40 km from the Russian border.

But he knows his parents are not convinced. “They are tense. As it is, there is little clarity on what the next day has in store. The hysteric coverage in some sections of the India TV media isn’t helping. But here life is as normal as it can be. From shopping malls to public transport, everything is functioning.”

With a Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine keeping the world on tenterhooks, thousands of Indian students enrolled in Ukrainian higher education institutes, including medical schools, and their parents are a worried lot.

On Tuesday, the Indian Embassy in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital which is a nearly six-hour drive from Kharkiv, issued an advisory, saying Indian nationals, particularly students whose stay is not essential, “may consider leaving temporarily” while advising them to avoid all non-essential travel.

But the students believe the Indian mission was slow to react, as a flight ticket to Delhi will cost them a minimum Rs 80,000 now. And no tickets are available before February 20, said Bharat, who hails from Haryana, also studying medicine at VN Karazin university.

Mahima Singh, an MBBS student at Bogomolets National Medical University in Kyiv, said, “Due to news of the conflict, flight ticket prices have gone out of reach. Agents are exploiting the situation to make money.”

“The Indian mission should have been more proactive. Now that the conflict seems to have escalated, they want us to return without explaining how,” said Mahima, who is from UP.

Adding to the confusion for Arpit and Bharat, their university, which had been holding classes in blended mode for the past few days, has scheduled an exam on Wednesday. Some of the students have written to the university authorities seeking clarity on the situation.

“The paper will be held in the university. We stay around 3-4 metro stations away from the university. Frankly, we have resigned ourselves to fate since it is too late to head home. The normalcy among the locals inspires hope and confidence,” said another second-year medical student Mansi, daughter of a business family from Haryana’s Panipat.

Her flatmate Sonia, who is from Punjab’s Gurdaspur, said more than the fear of a conflict, they are finding it difficult to calm their parents. “And on top of that neighbours keep asking whether I am safe. They get information from all sorts of places. All of that is adding to the difficulty,” she said.

On Monday, three families from Vadodara submitted a memorandum to Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, seeking help in evacuating students from Ukraine.

Vadodara’s Paresh Patel, father of a medical student who studies at Bukovinian State Medical University in Chernivtsi, said, “I have not been able to speak to my daughter for the past few days as her phone is out of order, but we have been following the developments… My daughter has also booked her tickets but the confirmation is on hold as the flights are expensive.”

“If the situation worsens, she will fly out but at this moment, the students are safe,” said Patel, adding that BSMU decided to conduct online classes from Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Indian Embassy has issued contact numbers +380997300483 and +380997300428 for Indian nationals stuck in any emergency situation in Ukraine. An email ID – [email protected] – has also been issued for emergency response.

(Inputs from Aditi Raja)

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