Seven hundred students stranded in Ukraine’s Sumy were evacuated on Tuesday in buses arranged by the Indian embassy after waiting for over a day for the vehicles to arrive and the route to be safe enough for travel.
The students of Sumy State University who had been stuck in their hostel buildings for the last 12 days since the war broke out were running out of food and water and had been heating snow for use in toilets.
“Finally, we have made it to the buses,” a student texted to The Telegraph, while travelling towards Poltava — a city in central Ukraine that is connected to pockets of western Ukraine by train. A majority of the Indians have been evacuated from Ukraine through the western border. He added that he was “not in a position to take a call inside the bus”.
The students had received a communication early on Tuesday morning asking them to be “ready to leave.” Hundreds of students — most of whom had already packed their bags the day before — came down in front of their hostels early on Tuesday and started boarding buses that had Indian flags on them, a student said. “We were not to interact with the media before we boarded the buses,” the student said, requesting anonymity.
An evacuation attempt had to be aborted on Monday when around 150 girl students who had boarded three buses, were asked to return to their hostels after “security issues” on their route.
Students said at least 12 buses with Indian flags were arranged which all the students in the three hostels boarded. Some of the buses had students from Bangladesh and Nepal too, one of the students said.
The convoy of buses was led by a white coloured bus with the logo of the Red Cross on it. “This is an incredible feeling. Yesterday we all went to sleep with our stomachs half empty because we had donated all the food as we were going home. And today morning, I could not believe my eyes when I saw so many buses,” said a student who ate stale bread with some leftover mayonnaise in a jar, for dinner the night before.
Apart from food and water, the students were also suffering from shortage of medicines for allergic treatment and sanitary napkins that they had requested the Red Cross and the local volunteers to arrange. “In the last 12 days, we had been living on false hopes. We did not even have medicines and sanitary napkins,” said a girl student.
Sumy — which is only 48km from the Russian border — has been witnessing heavy shelling, power cuts and fast depletion of supplies in the last 12 days.
Students said every time the Russian reinforcements entered Ukraine, they passed from in front of their hostel, leaving them terrified.
On Tuesday morning, as instructed by the Indian embassy, most of the students wrote their blood groups in their palms so that the information could come handy in case of an emergency.