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A Safe Haven, At Last

They hid themselves in the jungle, and even spent a night at a wedding ceremony uninvited just to survive the Russian attacks. Harsh Panwar and his girlfriend Reba Srivastava, the two Indian nationals who had been in Ukraine to study Medical Sciences, finally reached a safe place in the first week of March 2022.

Harsh and Reba, students at a medical college in western Ukraine, had met a couple of years ago. Later, they were in a relationship. Their lives changed abruptly after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military operation in the neighbouring former Soviet Republic on February 24. As missiles from Russia began to hit different parts of Ukraine and the Russian Air Force intensified bombardments, they decided to leave Ukraine for neighbouring Romania.

Harsh & Reba

Upon their arrival in India, Reba mentioned that they had to walk for two consecutive days, without taking rest. At times, they took refuge in the roadside jungles and farmlands, thus surviving aerial attacks. Furthermore, they were harassed by the Ukrainian border guards when they were about to enter Romania. “Ukrainian forces were preventing Indian and African nationals from crossing the border,” stressed Reba.

Not only Harsh and Reba, several other Indian nationals, too, have made similar claims. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba has apologised to the foreign nationals, writing on Twitter: “Everyone should have equal opportunity to return to their countries.” They had taken shelter at a community hall in a Romanian village with other people, who were leaving Ukraine. Harsh stated that the Romanian villagers treated them well, and also helped them reach Bucharest. Harsh and Reva started waiting for the India-bound flight at Bucharest airport. A couple of days later, they caught a New Delhi-bound flight.

Indians in Ukraine

Ayushi Agarwal, too, experienced the same while returning from Ukraine to India. Ayushi, a resident of eastern Indian Province of West Bengal‘s Bardhaman District, had arrived in Ternopil in 2021 to study Medical Sciences at the National Medical College. Within six months, she experienced a war. The Indian girl had taken shelter in a bunker, built during the Cold War times, to survive bombings on the western Ukrainian city.

Ayushi recalled that the outside temperature was minus 15 degrees Celsius when Russia launched the military operation in Ukraine on February 24. Under such circumstances, she walked about 50km, without food or water, to reach Poland. As the Government of India was unable to rescue the Indian students due to heavy bombings in Ukraine, they remained stranded in Kiev and other major cities. The Government advised them to travel to the neighbouring countries as soon as possible. As per the advice, Ayushi and her friends left for Poland by bus. However, the Ukrainian forces did not allow the bus to cross the border. Then, the commuters decided to walk to Poland.

Ayushi Agarwal (L) with her parents

Ayushi stressed: “It was very cold… minus 15 degrees Celsius. I had some biscuits in my bag, and those helped me a lot. But, I had no water with me. We found Russian flags flying everywhere. We had struggled a lot to reach the Polish border. However, officials of the Indian Embassy in Poland were present there to receive us. They provided us with food and water, and made arrangements for our safe return.

For her part, Ayushi’s mother Sweetie Agarwal said that she was worried about her daughter after Russia launched the military operation. “She had given us a different number. If she didn’t pick the call at her own number, we used to call at that number. Now, we are relieved,” the mother was heard mentioning. Ayushi’s father Bidyut Agarwal, too, has thanked the Government of India for ensuring the safe return of his daughter. It may be noted that India has also rescued a Pakistani girl and nine students from Bangladesh, as they took shelter in Poland.

Watch: Encouraging words by Indian Ambassador to Romania Honourable Rahul Shrivastava to the Indian students returning home

Meanwhile, the Government of India has confirmed that it started evacuating 3,726 Indians by 19 flights from Ukraine. In a statement, the Government said that the majority of those Indians managed to reach Romania, Hungary and Poland. The Indian Air Force, Air India and IndiGo Airlines are flying aircraft to rescue them under the Operation Ganga mission, launched by the Indian Government.

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