KYIV felt like Kashmir for the very first time in all these years when Russia launched the air and ground assault on Ukraine to cleanse it of “Neo-Nazis”.
The blitzkrieg brought home the captive and crippled feeling of home ravaged by decades of conflict and mayhem.
But before the belligerence came a causal war forecast from my Kashmiri friend: “I feel it’s time for us to relocate into a shelter.”
His words struck exactly fifteen minutes after the Russian President announced that he had effectively laid out a well-planned blue-print for a typical “Red-Army” invasion against Ukraine—a country that had held high hopes from its NATO friends.
But going underground when offline classes were still operational felt strange. Both the campus wards and the citizenry were defying the sense of war in their backyard.
That fake normalcy and denial is today holding us hostage in the subways where air is reeking with gunpowder and the anxiety is gripping the commoners caught in the new global order.
On the heels of Vladmir Putin’s televised address and before hiding in the basement, my friend updated his WhatsApp status, “Shifting to a shelter to stay alive.”
But as a Kashmiri accustomed to escalation, Putin’s speech and that WhatsApp status was akin to “dapaan”, a Kashmiri word that had often proved to be a rumour.
Unfortunately, with an unprecedented urge to disregard the possibility of a war and with each passing minute the night unfurled Kashmir like scenes, in a far distant land.
As a Kashmiri, born and brought up in the strife, it only takes one window-shaking boom to reach a state of alertness.
I was already awake in my room in Kyiv, in western part of Ukraine, when another call buzzed my phone. It was the same fretful friend: “Russians have arrived…Let’s shift...”
But even before my Kashmiri compatriot could finish his alarming call, two consecutive explosions went off exactly at five in the morning.
A moment later, I was cursing myself for not trusting my friend’s foretold warning.
The last time I’d cursed myself was in 2010, when Kashmir burst into street rage. The same old memories of refuting threats, the apprehensions of dying and fear of being unable to see my parent’s face one last time, were running high.
In the middle of that blast from the past, a third explosion shook me. Immediately, I found myself hustling downstairs to the basement with some Indian friends with whom I’ve been ignoring the war threats.
We looked at our phones in complete silence and tried to track the target of these missiles. In the next 15 minutes, I’d already calmed myself to an extent where I could call my fellow Kashmiri friends but the students from different parts of India standing right next to me had frozen in fear.
The sweat was dripping down their faces and, their hands trembling.
The missiles had struck, on the outskirts of the town, on a military establishment that houses the Ukrainian command overseeing the war in Kyiv and sometimes maintains a record of war-updates of Kharkiv, Mariupol and Odessa.
The point that was targeted by the Russian missiles was exactly the one where I was hearing my Kashmiri friend’s frantic speech fourteen hours back.
The hospital that was damaged by these missiles was the one where I had been interning as a doctor.
While Ukranian and foreign students were trying to figure out a way to run from this unpredictable attack, I was still hanging on to my dreadful-Kashmir history.
A few hours later, on the highway, I along with some 10 students were travelling to buy some groceries and get some cash. While passing through the rubble of some damaged structures, we passed a dark plume of smoke coming from a faraway collection of buildings that were once known as the Ukrainian Military’s training center.
On seeing that smouldered structure, most of the students started to cry and shrieked, “This is our end!”
But I was standing there, thinking about the year 2016 when structures went up in flames in my homeland. It was yet another indication of why Kashmiri people tend to have a deteriorated mental health. Conflict has badly injected our minds.
Perhaps, with each tip and toe, the facts of D-Day came into existence. What I’d read in books was right in front of me. The Red Army was knocking at the gates of the capital city just 48 hours after Putin pressed the button.
While Ukraine is meekly battling the offensive, Sunday might be the last day when this country will crumble under the jackboots of the advancing Red Army.
But what remained with me at the end of the silent day was one big nagging question that had gripped my mind: Wherever we Kashmiris go, bloody conflict follows us!
- As told to Zaid Bin Shabir, this first person account has been produced verbatim here by withholding the name of the Kashmiri doctor on request.
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