Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar, 20, was killed after being hit by shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Hailing from Karnataka, he was a fourth-year medical student at the Kharkiv National Medical University. He was standing in the queue before a grocery shop when the Russia army fired at people. We have no information about his body,” said his hostel mate.
To play a blame game is easy. One side says the government did nothing, and other says advisory was issued. Advisory was undoubtedly issued, but wording in it was that ‘they may consider’ evacuating the stranded Indian citizens from the land of Ukraine; airlines CAPs are removed, but ticket prices are high. Besides, these are students belonging to the middle class who have gone to study medicine in Ukraine, unlike the rich kids who enrol themselves into costly private schools by donation. And, the students stuck in Kyiv, Kharkiv, the internal areas of Ukraine, how will they reach the border if nobody helps them?
There were reports that Indian embassy officials didn’t arrive and the Indian student at Poland border was battling freezing cold with no help from any corner. Also, reports of Africans and Asians fleeing Ukraine being subjected to racial discrimination by border guards are doing rounds too. Students from Polish and Romanian border have also reported racial discrimination by border guards. Reports of extortion and assault at Ukraine border have also been highlighted by a few students.
Actions from the government have also been observed – Hardeep Singh Puri, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kiren Rijiju, VK Singh have left for neighbouring countries of Ukraine as special envoys of India to oversee the relief operation. Operation Ganga is the initiative launched by the government of India to bring back Indians stranded in Ukraine. Nevertheless, India has successfully brought back more than 1,000 of its nationals from the country. But is it enough?
There are 18,000 medical students and 25,000 overall Indian citizens who are stuck in Ukraine. Evacuation will not be easy when numbers are this large. But, thankfully, India has a history of successfully evacuating large number of citizens from amidst the hours of crisis –
- Kuwait airlift of 1990 is the most famous example when 1,70,000 Indians were evacuated in two months. It is considered as one of the most successful evacuation missions in the world.
- In 2006, Operation Sukoon evacuated the stranded Indians from Lebanon during a military conflict between Israel and Lebanon. It is famously called Beirut sea lift, largest naval rescue mission since Dunkirk.
- In 2011, India launched Operation Homecoming to evacuate 15,500 Indians from war-torn Libya.
- Operation Raahat in 2015, where 4500 Indians and 1000 foreign nationals were evacuated from Yemen via the sea route.
- In Operation Maitri, ajoint mission by the government of India and Indian armed forces carried out after Nepal earthquake in 2015. It is said that the mission started after 15mins, 5000 Indians and many foreign nationals evacuated.
- We have experience with massive evacuations. Recently an example of Vande Bharat during corona pandemic, it brought back over 6.7 million Indians since the onset of Covid from abroad, and now Operation Ganga to evacuate students from Ukraine.
In this article, let us focus on the situation on ground. Have we started an early celebration after 1000 students reached home? There are thousands still stuck in Ukraine. How can we provide immediate relief to those students?
- Brutality at the border: Brutality, racism and extortion at the border must be stopped. Barriers have been placed to prevent students from entering Poland, ill-treated by border guards. The cruel visuals of brutally beating up of the Indian students that are circulating in the media are causing outrage back home. This is the result of war, and our students are stuck in the middle of this collateral damage. Racism at the border is also reported – the European citizens have an easy access but African and Indian students are being manhandled, and even extorted by Ukrainian guards. So, even if Poland is read to welcome students, there is a huge hurdle on Ukrainian side.
- No presence of MEA at border: When notice to evacuate urged students to reach border, students say that there was no help at the border from the embassy officials. No diplomat or official was present there. So, students are suck in freezing cold without adequate supplies. If evacuation from border is not immediately possible, then how relief can be sent to students, like by the help of NGOs should be figured out.
- No communication: There are not enough people at the embassy for the students to get real-time updates from the government. Calls by the students to the embassy are rejected. Right information is not available and so the students are frustrated.
- Students away from the border: What will students in Kyiv or Kharkiv or on eastern side which is closer to Russia do? These are the places where the war and the impact of it are severe – the curfew is on and all the facilities are exhausted. They are, in fact, hundreds of kilometres away from the border. They are hoping for transportations to be arranged, and are left with limited supplies. Even a claim surfaced that Russian army forces abducted girls whoever tried escaping out. This definitely needs to be confirmed, but this unfortunately happens during war. This is why students need urgent information and help.
- Indian students at risk: It’s indeed a very risky situation for Indian students in Ukraine as India has abstained on UN Security Council’s call to convene a general assembly emergency session on Ukraine owing to our strategic interest and relationship with Russia. This has further led to tension, as Indian students claim thrashing by Ukraine security guards. Media has circulated the news that going beside the Indian flag will give safe access to students, but it seems not the case. Embassy should inform students where all they should or shouldn’t reveal their Indian identity.
- Anxious parents: Parents are anxious in India. They are eager to know what the plan is of the government. They want answers regarding when their kids will return.
- Evacuation plan: Evacuation plan is being readied. Now, the ministers have left for the neighbouring areas of Ukraine to oversee the situation. The fight is majorly on the eastern side, and western side with European borders is better off. The exit points are – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania. Most students are reaching Poland border, but a few unfortunate treatments by the Ukraine guards are a problem. Although, Poland said that Indian passport holders are welcome. Uzhhorod is the next exit route from where a train leaves for Budapest, Hungary. Moldova border is also being opened for students.
Though it’s a bit late, but now Ministry of External Affairs and government have sprung into action. Going by the history of evacuations I am confident that this mission will also be successful. Ministers have left already. So, we may admit that the embassies surrounding Ukraine were not proactive, that is why Ministers had to leave for Ukraine.
Bring in the Globemasters -People are of the opinion that Air India has now been privatised, but the government can make use of these privates in case of an emergency. Besides, we have Indian Air Force, and people forget that IAF has 11 Globemasters, the planes of high seating capacity, better than the flights of average200-250 capacity. A famous photograph of the last flight from Afghanistan was also a globemaster with 823 aboard. So, it can be deployed and if need arises globemasters can be sent.
Need for Humanity
Kindly, have some empathy and, humanity. Need of humanity is utmost important in this hour. Some publications and journalists are still playing religion politics amidst the war. They are of the opinion – “this guy protested against CAA, why does he need to return?” This is a new low by the Indian media. Each and every person is a citizen of India and they all deserve to be safely returned. Another insensitive comment to be heard in this crisis – “Why did they go to a small foreign nation to study?” A student may not want to go to Ukraine to study MBBS (18000 of them), but because of less seats and the fees being so high in the private institutions here, they are compelled to enrol in an another country. These students belong to a middle class background; and in Ukraine, standard of education is better, a doctor said. The questions should be – But, why is it better there than here? Why are they not studying here?