More Than A Silver Lining
“Fear had driven two enemies into each other’s arms and he smiled at that thought.” – Raymond E Feist (Honoured Enemy)
The number of vehicles on the roads decreased sharply with the increase in intensity of Russian aggression in Ukraine in the first week of March 2022. At that crucial juncture, Moazzam Khan – originally from the Tarbela Cantonment area near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad – helped evacuate at least 2,500 Indians from the eastern European country hit by Russian invasion. The 28-year-old Khan had arrived in Ukraine 11 years ago, and then settled in Ternopil. Although the Pakistani national had studied Civil Engineering in the former Soviet Republic, he switched his profession, and joined tourism industry. Khan, popularly known as Khan Bhai (Khan Brother), has said: “We, as humans, want the human touch. I always hugged my Indian students who left Ukraine. Hugging each other works well in such situations. Please do that to other human beings who are in distress.”
According to Khan, he collaborated with Nitesh Singh, the founder of Team SOS India, as his bus service picked Indian students from Ternopil, and dropped them to borders of Hungary, Slovakia (a five-hour drive away), Romania (a three-hour drive), and Poland (a two-and-a-half hour drive). Singh has described Khan as a God-send for Team SOS, an NGO that was working on getting Indian students safely out of Ukraine.
Although Khan has helped thousands of Indian students return home, it was heard that his elder brother, sister-in-law, nephews and nieces are still stranded in eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy. Till the second week of March, it was not possible for them to get out of Sumy without the Green Corridor. Talking to the Indian media over phone, Khan said that his relatives had sufficient food, and he would try to send them to Poland, if the situation improves.
As Khan has been a part of the tourism business in Ukraine for the past decade, some Indian students know him well. His mobile number went viral on several Indian WhatsApp groups after he helped stranded Indians evacuate from Ukraine. When other drivers increased their fares to USD 250, Khan’s bus service charged only USD 20-25 from each Indian student. He, even, arranged a free service for those Indians, who had no money. Khan was sympathetic also because of the language barrier in Ukraine. “I speak Urdu and most of the Indian students speak Hindi, so this connects us instantly. Hindi and Urdu are almost the same and therefore we gel well,” he stressed.
Khan has recalled that crowds at the airport were growing in fear of Russian attacks on Ukraine in the fourth week of February, and upon their arrival at the airport, four-five Indian students came to know that their flight had been cancelled. Standing at a below freezing temperature, they called for a car. Khan, with the help of GPS technology, realised that they were about 300km away from him. Hence, it was not possible for him to pick them at that point of time. “I kept calling drivers, and owners of shops and hotels in that area. Half the city woke up because of my calls on that day,” he said. On February 23, he rescued those students, and sent them to safe places.
Khan used his buses and taxis to transport the Indians from Ukraine to neighbouring countries. He also arranged food and shelter for some of them. Manmeet Kumar was one of those Indians who managed to return to India with the help of Khan. Kumar, who is studying medicine in Kiev, has admitted that he managed to return to India only because of Khan Bhai. The sixth-year student of Bogomolets National Medical University has stressed that Khan Bhai did not charge any money from him for helping him in reaching Slovakia.
Khan believes that there is no border between the Pakistanis and the Indians on foreign soil. “One of my teachers was an Indian. It is a fact that some historical events had separated India and Pakistan, but it is not necessary to fall into the trap of history,” he was heard saying. He wants the two South Asian neighbours to normalise their ties. “It is unfortunate that the citizens of the two countries visit foreign countries, but do not visit each other’s place,” added Khan. He claimed that the Indian students and their parents invited him to visit their places, insisting: “The most significant high was the blessings that these Indian students’ parents used to give me on the phone or send messages, thanking me on WhatsApp.” “I pray to God that they (the rescued Indians) may be safe. Please pray for my relatives, too,” stressed the young Pakistani national.
Khan, who has, in a way, erased the history of rivalry between Pakistan and India with his love, has become a Hero in South Asia. Millions of Indians have wished him a happy, safe and prosperous days ahead.
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