Niharika Jaiswal, a fifth year student at the Odessa National Medical University, about 500km from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was ready to leave at short notice. “I packed documents and essentials after a local channel announced last week that a siren will be sounded and we will have to evacuate within minutes,” said the 24-year-old who is from Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur.
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Her university continued in-person classes till last week asking students to stay but in the last few weeks, rumours of airspace being blocked, gas and power cuts and flights being cancelled have been swirling thick and fast. Unsure of what to believe, students like Jaiswal have been waiting for directions or advice from the Indian embassy for the last two weeks. On Tuesday, a statement issued by the Indian embassy in Kyiv said, ‘In view of the uncertainties of the current situation in Ukraine, Indian nationals in Ukraine, particularly students whose stay is not essential, may consider leaving temporarily. Indian nationals are also advised to avoid all non-essential travel to and within Ukraine’.
The sleepy town of Zaporizhzhia, about 700 km from Kyiv, has been witnessing frantic activity in the last few weeks. Residents have been stockpiling groceries, participating in military drills and practice attack manoeuvres with wooden guns. Fourthyear student Mohammed Faizal Khan from Zaporizhzhia State Medical University said his anxious parents have been calling at all odd hours to check on him. “Every time they see something on TV about the Russian troop buildup they call. They are very worried,” he said.
Some students have managed to leave in the last couple of days but others have been forced to stay put after their flights were canceled. Alfiya Khan, a fourth year student from Rajasthan’s Kota, said there were no flights available till February 20. Airfares have also soared from Rs 25,000 to as much as Rs 1 lakh for just one way on some days. “We are a seven-hour journey away from Kyiv. Also with Covid restrictions like the requirement of a RT-PCR before boarding, it is a risk to travel to the capital, only to find that your flight has been cancelled,” she said.
However, Mahin Khan, who also studies medicine in Zaporizhzhia, plans to stay on. “We will be spending a lot going to India, only to return in two weeks,” said Khan, who hails from Nagpur.
With direct Ukrain e-India flight only once a week, there is a rush to book one-stop flights. “The regular one-way fare used to be Rs 26,000. This has now shot up to Rs 60,000,” said leading Delhi-based travel agent Anil Kalsi.