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Pradeep Pattanayak

Debris of broken houses and shrapnel lay scattered on deserted streets, lanes and by lanes. Smoked vehicles and tankers found here and there, some are still in flames. Air-raid warning sirens pierce the eerie calm followed by the deafening explosions of bombs and bullets before the fall of a deathlike silence.  

These dystopian scenes now dot the landscape of war-ravaged Ukraine these days. 

So far, five days have passed since Russia invaded Ukraine and the horrific situation the people, particularly the students from different countries including India, undergoing there can well be imagined. 

Even today, 3,000 Indian students, including 500 odd from Odisha, are still holed up in war-hit Kharkiv city alone.

OTV spoke to Lojalin Sahu, a medical student stranded in the Ukrainian city, to get a clear picture of the ground situation as no signs of an end to the conflict appears in the distant horizon.

Lojalin,  who is from Cuttack, is currently spending her days and nights in a shelter set up in a metro station in Kharkiv city. 

Lojalin said she along with three other Odia students are taking shelter in the metro station. Apart from them, close to 500 Ukrainians are also sharing space at the station. “The situation is horrible here. It is getting worse with each passing day. Since only a few toilets are available at the metro station, they are no longer fit to be used due to hygienic issue. Yet, people are forced to use them. If the situation persists for some more days, we will definitely have health problems,” said Lojalin during a live Skype interview.

Lojalin said she and her friends travel to an acquaintance’s flat in the vicinity to freshen up during the period when curfew is relaxed. “The flat is just two minutes walk from the shelter. We go there only when there is a relaxation of curfew. But the short walk is fraught with danger as we often come across tanks, army vehicles zooming past us.  Anything can happen at any moment. But we are forced to go there,” said Lojalin. 

She spoke to OTV from the flat located on the 9th floor of a residential apartment. “As I am talking to you, I can hear the loud sounds of bullets and bombs at a distance. We are in constant fear,” she said, adding that curfew has been imposed in Kharkiv from 3pm to 6am and siren is sounded three to four times a day.

Lojalin said all those holed up in the city are going to face major food crisis in the coming days. “We have already exhausted our money. It is also difficult to withdraw money from ATM counters as long serpentine queues have become a norm. The food and water we have will hardly last one or two days. However, what has come as a light at the end of the tunnel is the money sent to us by our Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. However, it has not reached us as yet. Nevertheless, I am thankful to our CM,” Lojalin maintained.

When asked if she had received any intimation about rescue, Lojalin replied in the negative. “As of now, a special train is running for evacuation purpose. Believing in the rumour about rescue operation, some of the stranded students had travelled by the train to the border, which is 1,600 kms from Kharkiv. But, they ended up being tortured by the Ukrainian soldiers. With no option left, they had to return, again spending some money,” narrated Lojalin.  

“In the earlier days before the Russian invasion, we never experienced any problem. The people here are very cordial,” she said.

Staring at the unforeseen situation as the war rages, Lojalin urged both the State and Central governments to take steps for their immediate evacuation. 

Lojalin’s mother Rajlaxmi Sahu told OTV that the family is talking to her daughter three-four times a day over phone. This apart, they are in constant touch with her through WhatsApp. 

“So far, no government official has contacted us. The situation is deteriorating fast in Ukraine. I am concerned about well being of my daughter as well as other Indian students who are stuck there. We request the Central government and Naveen Babu to get our stranded children back to India as soon as possible,” Rajlaxmi said.
 

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