A group of students from Bengal who had returned to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv a month ago to attend in-person classes at Kyiv Medical University are now stranded in the war zone and spending most of the day holed up in an underground parking lot.
Arkaprabha Baidya and his friends, who are spending anxious moments in the parking lot located across the road from their hostel, have not unlaced their shoes for more than 24 hours.
The damp basement without any washroom, where the temperature dips below the freezing point at night, is the only place where the young men feel “safe”, Baidya told The Telegraph.
Baidya, from Raidighi in South 24-Parganas district, around 90km south of Kolkata, is a third-year student at Kyiv Medical University.
Blankets, two jars of drinking water of five litres each, loaves of bread, cookies and bananas — that was all Baidya and his friends could grab after a guard knocked on the door of their rooms on the sixth floor of the nine-storey hostel building at 4am on Friday (Kyiv time).
The students were wide awake inside their rooms as the city was reverberating with sounds of air raids and explosions.
“The siren sounded every few minutes, followed by airstrikes and a round of vibration. The guard told us we had to move now. It was no longer safe in our rooms,” said Chayan Kumar, from Halisahar in North 24-Parganas.
They already had their shoes on and their bags packed. After a brief consultation in one of the rooms, the group from Bengal ran out of their hostel and across the road to the underground parking lot.
On Thursday, they had gone to check the Boryspilska Metro station, which had been declared a bomb shelter. “Boryspilska station is near our hostel. Here the Metro tunnels are far deeper than in Kolkata. When we learned that the station had been turned into a bomb shelter, we went to check if we could shift there. But the place was already full and most of the occupants were local people. We decided to manage in the hostel,” Baidya said.
Their plans were jolted by a Thursday midnight strike.
“It is very cold and damp here (the parking lot). A few cars are also parked. We could hear bombings outside as we tried to fit ourselves between two cars but the space was too narrow. We spread out sheets in an empty space and settled down. We have been in Ukraine all these years and so we are accustomed to the cold. But the chilling cold as we settled on the floor caught us off guard,” said Sayanta Das, from Kestopur, in Kolkata.
Every time they had to go to the washroom they ran across the road into the hostel building.
No one inside could sleep. The cold and the fear of getting trapped underground if a bomb dropped on the parking lot and blocked the entrance kept them awake and talking.
The neighbourhood had no power since Friday morning.
“We have charged our power banks and mobile phones. The wifi connection is working till now. We cannot afford to lose connectivity as we are keeping in touch with the Indian embassy through their official Facebook page. We are checking for updates every few minutes. Hence, we have rationed our phone usage,” one of them said.