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External Affairs

As 219 Indians Land in Mumbai, Students at Poland Border Relay Stories of Horror

A student told The Wire that more than 500 Indian students had been waiting at the Ukrainian-Polish border point to cross over, “some of them for more than 15-16 hours”.

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New Delhi: As 219 Indian nationals stranded in Ukraine landed in Mumbai from the Romanian capital of Bucharest a little after 8 pm on Saturday, February 26, stories of more than 500 students initially stuck at the Ukraine-Poland border presented a sharp contrast.

For the latter, walks over enormous distances ended with even longer waits as Ukrainian Border Guards allegedly did not allow them to cross over to Poland initially. Later in the day, students reported that the borders had opened and lines had formed.

Flight from Romania

Air India’s first evacuation flight from Bucharest left on Saturday afternoon. Commerce minister Piyush Goyal tweeted a video of the students within the flight at Mumbai airport. This was retweeted by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar.

 

Indian nationals who reached the Ukraine-Romania border and Ukraine-Hungary border by road were taken to Bucharest and Budapest, respectively, by Indian government officials so that they can be evacuated in these Air India flights, they said.

However, not all seems perfect for students aiming to cross the Romanian border either, where movement appears to have stopped for well over the last 12 hours, according to a student at the site.

Saad Ansari, who reached Porbunne-Siret border on Saturday afternoon, said that his friends who had arrived around 3 am were still waiting to cross over into Romania. “There has been no movement since 2.30 am as far as we know”.

The Porbunne-Siret border on Saturday afternoon. Photo: By arrangement.

Two more evacuation flights despatched by the airline – one for Bucharest and one for Hungarian capital Budapest – departed from Delhi on Saturday.

The second and third flights are expected to return from Bucharest and Budapest, respectively, to the Delhi airport early on Sunday, officials mentioned.

“Regarding evacuation of Indian nationals from Ukraine, we are making progress. Our teams are working on the ground round the clock. I am personally monitoring,” Jaishankar earlier wrote on Twitter.

Poland border

However, students at another border point of Ukraine have alleged that their predicament has found little attention.

Sahil, a third-year medical student from Gujarat, had not expected that his biggest test would be at a border point, just steps from leaving Ukraine.

On Friday night, he left with his fellow Indian students on bus from the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil. They had no idea when they would even reach the border as the route was filled with vehicles, full of people trying to flee the fighting.

As they moved closer to the Polish border, the traffic became denser, until they had no choice but to start walking. “We walked the last 30 kilometres,” said Sahil, who sent photos of students dragging their luggage on roads filled with cars and snow lying on the sides.

Students stuck at the Ukraine-Poland Shehyni-Medyka border. Photo: By arrangement

But on arrival at the Shehyni-Medyka border, they found that their situation was worse.

He told The Wire that more than 500 Indian student were waiting at the Ukrainian-Polish border point to cross over, “some of them for more than 15-16 hours”.

“The situation is very critical. We ate only some chips and biscuits from past 35 hours. And also we don’t have more food now and water is also near empty. Please help us,” he wrote.

He sent a video of people belonging to various nationalities, mostly Indians, sitting down on the bare ground as they waited to return back home.

Sahil complained that he had tried different numbers of the Indian embassy in Poland, but they were not getting any response.

Official sources told The Wire that they were aware of the problem at the Ukrainian border.

“Ukraine Border Guard is not allowing Indians to exit Ukraine. Poland Border Guard is being very helpful. But to no avail,” they said.

Sahil eventually wrote to The Wire that the gates had been opened and lines had formed.

Around 16,000 Indians, mainly students, are stranded in Ukraine.

Note: This article, originally published on February 26, 2021, at 8.41 pm, is being republished on the same date at 9.35 pm, with additional details.