Indian students stranded in Ukraine’s big cities and at the border are frantically sending messages asking their government to evacuate them.
“We are hoping the Indian government will do something for students like us who are stuck in Kyiv and Kharkiv, either by arranging flights or by the embassy helping us get to the border,” one student told BBC Punjabi.
India has evacuated hundreds of students since Russia invaded Ukraine last week. Students who crossed the border into Romania and Hungary have left on special evacuation flights arranged by the Indian government.
The Indian embassy in Ukraine has been tweeting regularly, asking its stranded citizens to stay “patient and safe” as it attempts to evacuate all of them. On Monday, It advised those stuck in Kyiv to proceed to railway stations where there were special trains for evacuees.
Some students have praised the government’s efforts, saying embassy officials provided them with food and water when they were finally able to make it to evacuation points. But others say the government needs to do more to help them leave Ukraine, and to prevent the harassment they say they are facing at border checkpoints.
Some students have alleged that they were harassed at the border with Poland by Ukrainian guards. They say the guards beat them with rods and even pulled the hair of female students and stopped them from crossing over.
A video circulating on social media shows a guard kicking a man’s suitcase, although it is unclear if the man was of Indian origin.
Many others say they have been stuck for hours in their cars on the way to the border, unable to cross over and reach evacuation points.
A large number of students from India go to eastern Europe, including Ukraine, to study medicine.
Yashavi, a student of Vinnitsa National Medical University, told BBC Hindi she made it to the Romania-Ukraine border to be evacuated according to the Indian embassy’s instructions. However, once at the border, she found she was among thousands who were stranded.
“We are not getting any help or information. I don’t know why our government isn’t doing anything. When will we be able to leave? The temperature is so low, we’re freezing here.”
Yashavi said they could hear occasional gunfire.
Reeti, a student from India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is sheltering at a hostel at the Kyiv Medical University with hundreds of others. They were running short on food and water and have sporadic electricity even as temperatures dropped below zero, she told BBC Punjabi.
“We don’t know how long we’ll be here or what the Indian embassy is or is not doing. The students at cities near the border are able to go but we are in the middle of Kyiv. The embassy is not picking up calls. They say they are making efforts but what these efforts are we don’t know,” Reeti said.
“Even if we try to leave for the border it will take us at least one day to get there. But it’s so dangerous at night, you don’t even know if you’ll make it out alive,” she added.
Shivani from Haryana state, who is also sheltering at the same hostel, said they could hear the fighting just a few kilometres away.
According to Shivani, there are approximately 350-400 students at the hostel, most of them Indian.
“We go into the bunker in the evening and come out of it early in the next morning. The warden and guards who were at the hostel have run away. It’s only students here,” she said. “It’s frightening to hear the sound of shelling and blasts.”
The students say they have been sending messages to the Indian embassy, the Indian government and their state governments but no help has reached them yet.
“We’ve been asked to get to the border on our own but how can we do that if the embassy doesn’t help?” Shivani asked.
About 3,000 Indian students are believed to be in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, one of the major cities where Russian troops have clashed with Ukrainian forces.
A video shared with BBC Marathi by a student in Kharkiv shows tanks on a road outside her window.
Another student, who is sheltering in a bunker in the city, told BBC Hindi they were running out of food and struggling to keep warm but trying to keep each other’s morale high with music.