Indian student dies as Russia shells university city

An Indian student was killed on Tuesday 1 March in shelling in Kharkiv city in Ukraine, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs confirmed, while thousands of Indian and other foreign students who had been studying in Ukraine fled across the border in scenes of chaos, desperation and fear.

“With profound sorrow we confirm that an Indian student lost his life in shelling in Kharkiv this morning. The ministry is in touch with his family,” said a tweet by Arindam Bagchi, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs.

The student has been named as Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar (21) from India’s Karnataka state.

According to reports from other students in Kharkiv, he lost his life when he stepped outside the metro station to buy food for himself and other Indian students taking shelter there. Another 200 students were holed up in a bunker under a university residence in the city.

Students in Kharkiv – which has 38 higher education institutions with 300,000 students including 12,000 international students – said they were told to remain where they were by Indian embassy officials.

Naveen was a fourth-year medical student and his father said he had had to send him to Ukraine because despite scoring 97% in his pre-university course, he could not secure a medical seat in the state, The Hindu reported.

“It became inevitable for us to send him to Ukraine for studies. But we lost him,” his distraught father said.

The killing of an Indian student has sent shockwaves among relatives of Indian students still trapped in Ukraine. Anxious parents are now eagerly waiting for the return of their children.

Facing freezing temperatures and hunger, and scared and exhausted, every student in Ukraine has a story to tell. Others were still holed up in bunkers in cities under attack or trying to make their way to Ukraine’s borders.

ndia's Embassy in Kyiv issued on 2 March issued an urgent advisory to Indian nationals in capital letter to "leave Kharkiv immediately repeat immediately in the light of the deteriorating situaton."

Citizens were advised to proceed to Pesochin, Babaye, in the western suburbs of the city and Bezlyudovka, 13 Km south of Kharkiv "as soon as possible for their safety. Under all circumstances they should reach these settlements by 1800 hrs (Ukrainian time) today."

Social media reports early on 2 March showed university buildings of Kharkiv National Agrarian University, Kharkiv National University of Economics, VN Karazin Kharkiv National Universities under attack with buildings on fire.

India has around 18,000 students in Ukraine – 25% of all foreign students in the country.

The Indian government has brought home over 4,000 of its citizens, most of them students, but the numbers in Ukraine are still high. The Indian embassy in Kyiv issued a fresh advisory on 1 March: “All Indian nationals including students are advised to leave Kyiv urgently today. Preferably by available trains or through any other means available,” the embassy said in a tweet post.

In New Delhi, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday also asked the Indian Air Force to evacuate stranded Indians.

‘Nightmare’ for students

The situation in Ukraine has become a nightmare for those Indian students who decided to pursue their dreams in a far-away European nation. India’s social media is flooded with videos of students from Ukraine describing their ordeal in conflict-ridden Ukraine and demanding immediate evacuation from the government.

Nushrat Jahan (22), a student at Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University in Mykolaiv, was in a bunker close to her flat for the last few days, but along with 500 other students is now moving towards the border to Moldova.

“When we heard some explosions and the sound of sirens, we entered the bunker quickly. The situation is very bad. Food items are also almost finished and there is no money in the ATM,” she said.

Her father Shakeel Saudagar, who lives in Rewa in India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh, said: “The news so far is that they are being taken towards the border. We just want her to come to us as soon as possible.”

Another student, Sanskar Verma (20), said the situation at the border is really scary. “Many Indian students were beaten at the Romanian border by Ukrainian forces. It is important that Indian students should be evacuated at the earliest, otherwise they may have to face abuse from the locals,” said Verma.

He added: “Maybe Ukrainians are angry because India sided with Russia at the United Nations.”

He was referring to a UN Security Council vote on 26 February deploring Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. India, along with China and the United Arab Emirates, abstained in the vote which was vetoed by Russia.

India says it has sent foreign ministry officials to Ukraine’s land borders with Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania to provide assistance to fleeing Indian nationals, but thousands of Indian students are still stranded in various cities of conflict-ridden Ukraine, struggling to return home amid escalating Russian attacks and bombings. Most have run out of food, water, medicines and other essentials.

Media reports said the Ukrainian government has decided to run free trains to take the people trapped in Kiev to safer places. These trains will take passengers to the comparatively safer western regions of the country.

Indian students stranded in Kyiv and Kharkiv cities are very frightened. The students are hiding in bunkers and underground metro stations. The students said that the Indian embassy should evacuate them safely from the areas facing escalating Russian attacks.

They said that the students evacuated so far lived in comparatively safer cities. But help has not reached students living in the cities under Russian attack. Desperate parents of some students who did not want to be named said the situation had got “out of control” because of slow action by the Indian government. “They should have taken the decision to rescue them earlier, but they waited for unknown reasons,” said one.

‘Operation Ganga’

The Indian government on Monday said it was sending four cabinet ministers to supervise the evacuation, according to an official statement. It also announced plans for more flights to bring back students not just from Ukraine but also neighbouring countries.

According to the statement from the Prime Minister's Office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the “entire government machinery is working round the clock to ensure that all Indian nationals there are safe and secure”.

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Sunday 27 February said that the government has launched a multi-pronged evacuation plan called ‘Operation Ganga’ to evacuate Indian citizens trapped in Ukraine.

He said 24/7 control centres have been set up to assist in the evacuation of Indian nationals through the border crossing points with Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. In addition, the control room at the Ministry of External Affairs continues to function on a round-the-clock basis.

Ministry spokesman Bagchi on Monday 28 February said: “Six flights have already brought back nearly 1,400 Indian nationals stranded in Ukraine. Four of these flights arrived from Bucharest and two from Budapest as part of ‘Operation Ganga’.”

The Indian government said it is bearing the cost of evacuation of students given the emergency situation prevailing.