Kashmiri Students Caught In Ukraine War 'Walk Home'

Representational Photo

49 Students Reach Moldova, Romania Amid Gunfire; Air Raids

Srinagar- As the Government of India’s Operation Ganga—to evacuate stranded students—in Ukraine comes under sharp focus, many Kashmiri students have managed to leave the turbulent country for Moldova & Romania on their own, apparently without any official support.

Pertinently, three different groups of 49 Kashmiri students have managed to crossover into Moldova and Romania, after being caught up in the middle of air raids and fierce fighting in Kharkiv, Sumy, Kyiv and Odessa cities.

On February 28, these 15 Kashmiri students were all ready to leave for Moldova before their tryst was cut short by an unpredictable round of blasts. This was a final call for these young doctors that the Russian attack in Ukraine will intensify in the coming days.

“All 15 of us watched out of our apartment building and there was literally fire all around. Russia has finally stepped up its attack on Odessa port city,” said Zafar Malik, a Kashmiri student who along with 14 other Kashmiri students has managed to cross into Romania through the Moldova border.

And then, as the dawn broke in the heavily bombed city of Odessa on Monday these Kashmiri students began an ardous journey of 233 kilometers amid curfew and shelling towards safety.

“This journey is full of dangers but we will undertake it to escape a certain death,” Malik told Kashmir Observer before leaving for the Romanian capital, Budapest.

On Monday, the Indian Embassy had also issued an advisory for students to “leave Kyiv urgently”, however, it had issued no such advisory for students who were stranded in other regions—Sumy, Kharkiv, Odessa and Lviv—that had seen an escalation of Russian attacks for past two days.

Even though the embassy had issued no such warning for students in other parts of Ukraine, Zaffar and his friends were forced to leave on their own as shortage of food & money beside the growing attacks had started to take its toll on them.

“You know, the Embassy has literally done nothing for us. There were no buses for us. We had to catch a cab for Moldova on our own. The world should know how we managed to reach Moldova. We have no money and no help was forthcoming,” said Zafar, while traveling in a self arranged bus to Budapest.

Pertinently, another group of four Kashmiri students has also managed to cross into Moldova from the worst hit Kharkiv without any help from the embassy.

“On Monday morning, we were forced to defy curfew and travel to a train station which is almost 4 kms away from our shelter in Kharkiv. The embassy hadn’t even been able to arrange a bus service upto that train station. We had to walk four kms to reach that train station,” Shahid Habib, who had managed to cross into Moldova on Tuesday morning, told Kashmir Observer.

Students seem to be angry at the embassy officials for not having an evacuation plan ready even days after war broke out. “Before leaving, we tried to contact embassy officials but there was no response from them. So, we decided to leave without any further delay.”

Shahid further added, “On the same morning, the Ukrainian army had called for a strict curfew.
Announcements were made that any person found out on the roads would be considered an enemy. The Government had ordered its army to shoot at sight. That fear was nothing less than the one created by falling missiles and the empty food stalls at supermarkets.”

On Sunday, Shahid and his other three friends had seen media news which claimed Russia will intensify attacks on Kharkiv from Monday. “Before finally leaving Kharkiv, we had tried to leave the city two times before but we could not due to a strict curfew. But on Monday, it was a do or die situation and somehow we managed to escape".

Last week, several news agencies reported that more than 200 students from Jammu and Kashmir pursuing various courses are currently stranded in different cities of Ukraine.

"We passed through Alchivasky street, Puchkinska, Unouskat, central Uninok and Wokhzal where a red alert had been sounded, before finally catching a train to Odessa. Had we died, the embassy would have blamed us but luckily as we reached Moldova safely, the embassy takes credit for 'evacuating' us,” Shahid Habib said.

As per Shahid, it took them almost a day to reach the Moldova-Ukraine border.

“Thousands of people who had managed to leave Ukraine were already waiting for their turn to cross into Moldova. It took us three hours to cross into Moldova. At the border, Ukrainians are allowed to enter the country with hassle free procedures while foreign students have to go through a tough passport check. I personally haven’t seen any embassy official on the Ukraine-Moldova border,” he said.

Notably, another group of 30 Kashmiri students has also managed to leave Ukraine and reach Moldova from where they’re expected to cross into Romania where the Indian government has arranged a special flight for evacuation. “We're thankful to Indian students based in Moldova. They  helped us to cross into Moldova and have also arranged transport services for our travel to Budapest,” a Kashmiri student can be heard saying in a video shared on social media.

Notably, as of now, no Kashmiri student has found space in the special flights that are carrying hundreds of Indian students from Budapest to India.

It is expected that these Kashmiri students will reach Budapest on Tuesday night and will be evacuated to India on Wednesday.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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