Indian students in Ukraine who were trying to flee the war-torn country have shared disturbing details of the ordeal they have been facing on the Polish border.
Many of them alleged that they were not allowed to cross into Poland while others said they were beaten up by the authorities at the Shehyni-Medyka border point connecting Ukraine with Poland.
The students have revealed, through audio clips and videos seeking help, that they were specifically stopped at the border while trying to enter Poland. After repeated pleas, while some girls managed to cross the border into Poland, most of them were forced to return to their towns in freezing temperature, they said.
“They only allowed Ukrainians. Later, when we pleaded, they allowed girls to cross the border. But they beat up boys. There was a student who had asthma. They tortured him and showed to us that he has become breathless,” says Saakshi Ijantkar, a fourth-year MBBS student at Lviv National Medical University who is from Mumbai, Maharashtra.
On the fourth day of Moscow’s invasion, Russian troops entered Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv and fighting was under way on February 27, the head of the regional administration said.
Lviv is a city in western Ukraine, about 70 kilometres from the border with Poland. This group of students from the university had travelled on foot, buses and by hitching lifts for several hours amid freezing cold to cross the border into Poland before heading to India.
The Indian Embassy in Poland had earlier issued an advisory asking students who want to be evacuated to reach the Shehyni-Medyka border by foot or bus or taxi. There have been reports, pictures and videos of students spending freezing nights in parks and on roads along the border with temperatures touching minus five degrees Celsius at night. Many students are seen in the videos burning trash and extra luggage to light bonfires and survive in the freezing cold.
Amid escalating tensions and despite witnessing the ordeal first hand, the students have not stopped travelling to the border with the hope of making it to the other side to be evacuated.
India is evacuating its people stranded in Ukraine through bordering Hungary, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Romania as the Ukrainian airspace was shut down following the Russian bombing of several cities, including the capital Kyiv. The first evacuation flight, AI1944, bringing back 219 people from Bucharest to Mumbai landed on February 27 evening.
One-fourth of students studying in Ukraine are said to be Indians. Of the nearly 15,000 students stuck in various parts of Ukraine after the Russian invasion, 80-90 percent are studying medicine.
Social media have been filled with pleas from Indian citizens, especially students asking for their safe return to the country. The task of evacuating Indians became a more challenging one after Ukraine closed its airspace due to the “high risk of aviation safety” amid intensifying military operations, followed by Russia imposing restrictions on civilian air traffic over northeastern Ukraine.
India on February 27 set up a dedicated Twitter handle to assist in the evacuation of Indians from Ukraine.
The government of India had requested Poland to facilitate the evacuation of Indians from Ukraine. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla took up the issue of Indian students stranded near Poland’s border with the Ukrainian Ambassador Igor Polikha.
Earlier in the day, Ambassador of Poland to India Adam Burakowski said Poland was allowing Indian students who are escaping from Ukraine to enter without a visa.
But many students responded saying the problem still persisted at the border.
Some students said that the Ukrainian authorities at the border were even seen beating up people and asking for money from a fainted student who eventually died.
As the chaos ensued, the Embassy of India in Warsaw, Poland, issued an advisory for Indians desiring to be evacuated from Ukraine via Poland. “Ten buses have been arranged, operational from Feb 28 onwards, at Shehyni on the Ukraine border to take Indian citizens for transit entry into Poland,” the Embassy said in the advisory.