After long walk from bunkers, students left stranded at Kharkiv train station


NEW DELHI: Dragging bags and lugging backpacks, groups of Indian students in Kharkiv filed out of their underground shelters on Wednesday and quietly marched at least 10km on the bombed-out streets to reach railway stations, but many of them were left stranded on platforms as guards thrashed and pushed out foreigners, allowing only Ukrainians and women to board the packed trains.
Some, however, made it in the chaos to board a train for a 14-hour ride to Lviv in western Ukraine close to the Polish border. “If there’s space left, girls are let in. Boys are beaten up if they step inside. I’ve eaten one slice of bread the whole day and have just one jacket. How are we supposed to get out of here?” said Anenna Vinod from Karnataka, a first-year student at Kharkiv National Medical University.
Indian officials told the students to get out of the ‘bunkers’ where they have been holing up since the war began a week ago with little food and water, and move out of the city by 6pm local time on Wednesday—even walk to places like Pisochyn, Babai and Beslyudivka, some 11-16km away. The Russian offensive have intensified in the eastern city of Kharkiv and a student from Karnataka got killed on Tuesday when he stepped out searching for food.
The students were told to switch off their phones and move in a file silently. Some held the Tricolour aloft as they walked past burning buildings and hid behind vehicles during spells of shelling before they reached the railway station.
“We walked 12km amid shelling. There were army tanks on the road and we passed by bombed buildings and burning vehicles. Time and again, we had to take shelter in buildings and metro stations when we saw fighter jets flying low and air raid sirens going off. It’s scary,” said Shabnam Begum of Bengal.
The group reached Bezlyudovka station, but were not allowed to board a train. “Many Indian students like us have been pleading before the guards to let us in. They are allowing Ukranians, not us,” she said. They had just three more hours before the curfew started. “We have to get on the train or else we can be shot.”
At least 800 Indian students left the university hostel on foot around 6.30am (local time). “The hostel authorities told us to catch a train out of Kharkiv. We were asked to switch off our phones and not take photographs. Guards broke a student’s phone on Tuesday. We reached the station at 9am,” said Yash Pardeshi from Maharashtra.
But there was chaos all around at the station. Tamanna from Haryana told her father that Ukrainian guards were sparing none, beating even girls. Her father said the girls were feeling more secure in the hostel basement.
Amid biting cold, students are staying put on platforms or on roads leading to the stations, shuddering every time bombs go off in the distance and looking for mobile phone charging points.
A lucky few found taxis to reach the station, but most walked around 6km-10km. “We were running for our lives. We could hear bombs going off and fire rising beyond buildings. We’d hold on to our bags and run,” said Shridharan from Karnataka.
The father of student Jasmeen Kaur from Punjab said his daughter’s group was completely exhausted after reaching the station on foot. “Karan Sandhu (a sponsor of the students in Kharkiv and who is with them) was stopped by Russian soldiers as he was carrying a heavy bag. They thought he was carrying arms for the Ukrainians. They let him off when they found food packets in the bag,” said Ranjit Singh of Muktsar, praying that his daughter and her friends make it to either the Romanian or Polish border.
(Inputs from Tamaghna Banerjee and Md Asif in Kolkata, Sruthy Susan Ullas & Basavaraj Maralihalli in Bengaluru and Haveri, Neel Kamal in Bathinda, Vijender Kumar in Jind, Barinderjit Saluja in Chandigarh, Siva G in Visakhapatnam, Abhilash Botekar in Nashik.)



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