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Ukraine crisis: I thought I wouldn’t make it out alive, says student from Nagaland

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By Reyivolü Rhakho Updated: Mar 04, 2022 1:04 am
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They walked for days to reach Ukrainian border

People walking along a long line of vehicles towards the Ukranian border following Russian military offensive on Ukraine. (Specially arranged photo)

Reyivolü Rhakho
Kohima, March 3 (EMN): “I have seen the most desperate human call for help and it was really terrifying. People’s desperation, trying to run for their own lives; I just can’t believe what I saw. It was so traumatising,” were the words from a medical student from Nagaland who was stranded in war-hit Ukraine.

The student, who has reached Delhi, shared her harrowing experience to Eastern Mirror on condition of anonymity.

Recalling her stay in Poltava city, which is about two-and-a-half hour drive from conflict-zone Kharkiv and another five from the country’s capital Kyiv, she said “everything was so normal” prior to February 24. Her teachers assured nothing would happen and directed students to attend classes. But that didn’t stop them from feeling scared as the situation turned tense.

‘We woke up to the news of cities being bombed on February 24. We were even more terrified as friends from these cities failed to respond to our calls,’ she said.

But, they were fortunate enough because Ukrainian forces held up the Russian troops and delayed the entry to Poltava. After taking down those cities (Kharkiv and Kyiv), the troops would be in the city in less than an hour, she said.

Faced with uncertainty, she and her friends decided to leave the city on the same day but could not get any transportation.

‘Another thing is that to leave the city would mean crossing those war-zone areas,’ she said.

In addition, an Iraqi friend told her to leave the country immediately, warning that it ‘is how war starts’. “They say they will not target civilians but war is brutal; they will not see any civilians,” her friend alerted. They then packed a few clothes, water, food, and other essential items and left for the train station. 

The crowd was worse than the train stations in India, according to her.

“We saw people desperately fighting to enter the train,” she said.

Somehow, they managed to enter the train. To go to the western part of Ukraine, one has to cross Kyiv, where the main bombing was going on, but they took the risk and embarked on the journey. 

‘While on the train, I could feel the vibration and notice bombings in the distance, but thank God, nothing happened to me,’ she said.  

They reached one of the safest cities in Ukraine, Lviv. But after reaching, they were confused as to what to do next.

‘Initially, the Indian Embassy in Ukraine was also not responding due to inundated calls and messages,’ she said.

During their set out to the border, they were scammed by a taxi driver who offered to take them near the border, saying that it was just an hour’s walk, and charged them $100 (about INR 7500). They found out later that they were nowhere near the border. From there, they walked with their luggage.

In the middle of the journey, they came across villagers (Ukrainian) who were generous and took them in. Stranded passersby were provided with food and refreshments. One of the villages had even provided shelter to women and children in their schools. There, she managed to take a nap, charge her phone, and continued her journey. 

Five of them made it to the border but only two agreed to cross the border as others wanted to wait for their friends. From there, they walked for two days (about 50 km) and waited for another two days to cross the border. All in all, it took them four days from Poltava to reach the border.

People fleeing Ukraine stranded in the country’s border. (Specially arranged photo)

Surviving on chocolate and water

They initially planned to go to Poland and stay at her friend’s uncle’s home. “But, it was a mistake going to the Medyka border,” she said.

‘There, the Ukrainian soldiers along with some of the volunteers were beating the Blacks and Indians. People were stuck there for days and were not allowed to cross the border. The situation was really bad,’ she said.

She was allowed to pass through but her male friends were at the receiving end of the armies’ beatings, to the extent that a friend fractured his hand.

She opined that the harsh action meted to Indian citizens could be because of India’s diplomatic relationship with Russia.

They were coming in groups but were separated from one another. ‘At the border, people were pushing and fighting against each other. They didn’t even care as everyone was desperate to flee Ukraine. People were desperate because they were standing there for days without food,’ she said.

“There were times when I thought I would not make it out alive. Because I saw people pushing each other, some fell down, kicked, and were stampeded. Some fainted (out of hunger),” she narrated the harrowing the incident.

She survived on chocolate and water. One of her friends too fainted, and all his documents and money were stolen. When people faint, others don’t try to help but are instead tossed away. ‘Further, trying to help invites punches,’ she said, adding that cops came in time to control the situation.

“It was so cold. It started snowing. The situation was desperate. It was very traumatising to see a human’s desperate call for help and find a passage to escape,” she recounted.

As soon as they crossed over to Poland, the Indian embassy was waiting for them and took them to a hotel in Poland by bus.

‘They booked the entire hotel and gave the stranded Indian citizens food, shelter, and everything,’ she said while thanking them for taking care of stranded people.

‘Indians stuck at border need help’

‘After crossing the border, everything is okay as the embassy takes care of everything. But the real difficulty lies in crossing the border,’ she said and requested the Embassy and the government to help those Indians stuck at the border.

“They need more help in crossing the border” rather than after crossing, she said adding that “it is very difficult for the boys to cross the border as (Ukrainian) armies are harsh on Indians and Blacks”.

“People say that Indians are without manners and don’t maintain decorum. But what I saw was that they were really disciplined. They were not pushing, they were not fighting. They were just trying to help each other out. So, they don’t deserve all these beatings, really!” she observed.

She added that some of her friends are still stranded at the border line.

She was among the evacuees who arrived in Delhi from Poland on Wednesday. It was a “miracle”, she said.

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By Reyivolü Rhakho Updated: Mar 04, 2022 1:04:02 am