A student narrates a long and dangerous trip from Kharkiv in Ukraine to Kerala in five days.

Krishna in a blue dress is flanked by her parents on either side, in a photo shot outdoorsKrishna (middle) with her parents
Features Russia-Ukraine conflict Monday, March 07, 2022 - 17:06

After spending days and nights in hostel bunkers and room corners, listening to the sounds of war closing in on them, a bunch of Indian students from Kharkiv in Ukraine began an uncertain journey back home on the morning of March 1. They walked for hours, got kicked and pushed among crowds running after trains, travelled amid bomb blasts and firing, before reaching safer grounds and then their homes days later. Krishna Madhu, one of the students who reached her home in Kerala early on Sunday, March 6, tells TNM about the eventful five days. The 21-year-old is a third year student at the Kharkiv National Medical University.

“The curfew there ended at 6 every morning (after starting at 4 pm the previous evening), and there were no taxis. On March 1, we stepped out of our hostel at 6 am, ready to walk to the Kharkiv railway station, 5 km away. But as we reached the doorstep, we heard bombs striking a nearby building and returned to the hostel. Half an hour later, we stepped out again, realising there was no choice anymore, and we couldn’t stay back in a place without food or water. We – there were about 50 of us – began walking,” Krishna narrates.

The long walk, tied down by the weight of a few belongings they were taking home, did not matter as long as they could somehow get away. “We heard bombs and gun shots as we walked but we kept going. But at the railway station, there was a huge rush. Everyone was trying to get out of there, and special trains were arranged. But everywhere, they would give priority to Ukrainians, so we kept getting shoved away. A guard who was monitoring the trains threw away the bags of an Indian student in front of me,” Krishna says.

They reached the station at 8.30 am in the morning, but it took them 6.5 hours to get on a train. The trains were expectedly full, and Krishna and her friends sat in a packed corner near the door. Through the journey, they could hear bombs going off and see people outside running. After 18 to 19 hours they reached Lviv, on the western side of Ukraine, where things were calmer and they finally felt a little safe.

 

 

But for two days – the day in the train and the next – they went without water or food. Whatever food they had carried with them was lost in the mayhem at the Kharkiv station. “We were not thinking of all that then. When we reached Lviv, we saw the next train that we had to catch coming to the station five minutes later. We had to get on that train, because another train may come only the next morning.”

They had to go to a station called Chop in a train headed to Uzhhorod. It took them 5 to 6 hours to reach Chop at the Hungarian border and another five hours for immigration. But finally they crossed the border into Hungary on a third train and got down at Záhony.

“Indian Embassy officials were there to pick us up at the Hungarian border and take care of our trip to India. We got food, hostel accommodation and other facilities. That was on the morning of March 3, and we were booked on a flight to Delhi for the next afternoon,” Krishna says.

They reached Delhi on March 5. Krishna and other students from Kerala flew to Kochi and reached their homes early on Sunday morning. Their parents had been waiting at the airport from the previous night, anxious to catch a glimpse of their rescued children.

Most of the Indian students Krishna knew in her university had reached safer places when she last checked, she says. “The first year students in our hostel could not come with us because they are not allowed to step out without their guides. But I heard that they too had later reached Hungary, after the Indian government sent word asking all students to vacate Kharkiv as soon as possible.”

Watch: Krishna and other students from when they were stuck in Ukraine

 

 

However, there are still a few hundred students stuck in nearby Sumy. “Some students from Kharkiv went to the nearby Russian border – only 12 to 15 km from their hostels. But the border is still closed and they are camping there. However, students in Sumy are still stuck inside hostels and bunkers, unable to get out,” Krishna adds.

Krishna went to school in Pathanamthitta, her hometown, but chose to go to Ukraine for college since it was more affordable and she could get some desired exposure. “I had a good score in Class 12 and qualified for NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test). But I felt it was better to go to Ukraine than to a private college which charged exorbitant fees.”

Also read: Why scores of Indian students couldn’t leave Ukraine in time, despite advisories

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