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News18 at Ground Zero: From Kharkiv to Poland, a Daring Escape for Indian Students Who Survived Shelling, Slurs

By: Maha Siddiqui

CNN-News18

Last Updated: March 03, 2022, 10:57 IST

Budomeirz (Poland)

Indian students who managed to reach Budomeirz in Poland from Ukraine board the Indian Embassy bus to reach Rzeszow. (Maha Siddiqui/News18)

Indian students who managed to reach Budomeirz in Poland from Ukraine board the Indian Embassy bus to reach Rzeszow. (Maha Siddiqui/News18)

The group of 50 Indian students reached the border crossing between war-torn Ukraine and Poland on Wednesday afternoon. Some witnessed shells exploding near them, while others escaped bombarded buildings.

Walking quietly with their gaze firmly fixed forward, a group of around 50 Indian students crossed the border between Ukraine and Poland in Budomeirz on Wednesday afternoon. With a bag each on their backs, this group had just finished a long and harrowing journey from Kharkiv to Poland.

While some were relieved at the sight of the Indian Embassy bus in Poland to take them to Rzeszow, some others were angry and upset at what they said was complete lack of help in Ukraine. But there was one common emotion that they had all experienced over the last six days and more so in the last 24 hours – fear.

“We were terrified,” said Vaishnavi, a student of VN Karazin Medical University, Kharkiv. She described the moment when a shell exploded at a distance in the station they were waiting at to catch a train. “The station was shaking and we just covered our heads with our bags, fearing it will fall on us and we will all die,” she said.

Vaishnavi added that 70 of them walked 8 km in the tense situation in Kharkhiv to the train station without any help from any quarter. Sahil, another student, explained they were driven by desperation to take this daring step in a condition too dangerous to be caught in.

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Indian students who managed to reach Budomeirz in Poland from Ukraine board the Indian Embassy bus to reach Rzeszow. (Maha Siddiqui/News18)

They stayed in a basement for six days after which they ran out of food and water. Another student, Swati, explained that it was then they decided to pick up their essential belongings and leave. Swati, however, added that just as she and another friend went to their flat to get their bags, a powerful explosion shattered all the windows of their building. She described that moment as one where fear gripped her heart and she thought the building will collapse on them.

Swati said they ran out to a taxi that they had managed to get. The taxi driver “verbally abused” them for having gotten him to a “risk zone”. However, ultimately, it was he who dropped them off to the station from where they managed to reach Lviv with the rest of the group.

Budomeirz border crossing between Poland and Ukraine. (Maha Siddiqui/News18)

The Indian students said they were told by the Indian Embassy in Kyiv that they would be rescued via Moscow. They waited for six days and then ultimately decided to take matters into their own hands. They covered a distance of 875 km mostly on a train and partly on foot in the freezing cold.

Swati also explained how no one predicted that the situation would spiral out of control. She said they had spoken to their teachers and even their dean when tensions started escalating, but they were told that the Ukraine-Russia situation has been an “ongoing one” and wouldn’t impact them.

Camps for refugees at the Budomeirz border crossing between Poland and Ukraine. (Maha Siddiqui/News18)

As the assessment of the seniors across the board went horribly wrong, the students were left in a spot – one that left them with little room to manoeuvre. The students who are being trained to save the lives of others were suddenly faced with saving their lives first. And their determination to do so helped them cross over into Poland to safety.

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first published:March 03, 2022, 08:44 IST
last updated:March 03, 2022, 10:57 IST
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