Calls, rescue appeals, safety hacks and daal: A day in the life of a student trapped in Ukraine

‘What we are most nervous about is the situation in Sumy becoming like Kharkiv…where will I go?’

WrittenBy:Supriti David
Tapan Kumar Bugudai is among 600 Indian students stranded in Sumy.

On the eighth floor of a residential complex in Kovpakivs'kyi district in Ukraine’s Sumy, Tapan Kumar Bugudai, 23, has just woken up to phone calls – while the windows inside his dark room tremble with every explosion in the distance.

“I wake up at 3 am every morning, because my parents call me. The conversation always starts the same – ‘are you safe? where are you? have you eaten?’ We make small talk about the news, and the call ends with them saying, ‘We pray to god that you come back to us as soon as possible. I try not to fall asleep, because every call that goes unattended makes my family extremely worried,” he said, adding that he attends nearly 60 such calls each day – “to keep everyone calm”.

Tapan and two other students are the only Indians left in the complex, and they live on the same floor – they are among 600 students stranded in Sumy, about three hours away from Kharkiv.

While several students in hostels – such as the one in Sumy State Medical University – have been actively sharing videos on social media about their plight, Tapan said he is too afraid to even go to the nearest bunker 50 metres away. The nearest hostel is two kilometres away but he tells Newslaundry on the phone that “I know what the situation is like in the hostels”. “The students have no space to sleep and there aren’t enough blankets for all of them. There isn’t enough food or water there either. Here inside my apartment, I at least have space, a little food and a blanket.”

His furniture stacked up against the windows to maximise safety, Tapan today sounds tired; the electricity has gone off and there is no gas or water. He usually made roti and daal because he could do it “quickly”, but “I don’t know how I will cook now”.

He had been following a schedule: waking up at 3 am, taking calls, watching the news, tweeting appeals to rescue him, and taking breaks to prepare meals before trying to fall asleep.

“My bottled water is nearly finished now…What we do now is leave the tap on and wait to hear the water run. As soon as we hear it, we run and collect the water in the bucket.”

According to the The Borgen Project, an NGO focused on addressing global poverty, tap water in Ukraine should not be consumed, especially by those in the southern parts of the country. Tapan, however, says he has no choice.

“I came here to become a doctor and earn some respect in society…this is not what I wanted for my family. I came to this country because mine was not letting me achieve these dreams.”

With sirens and explosions ringing loud around him as he speaks, Tapan points out that it has been relatively calm the day before. “Yesterday, I only heard blasts in the morning…Today it has become bad again. The last email I received from the embassy said that they were waiting for the situation to ease. Isn’t a day of quiet as much as one can expect as ‘ease’ in a war?”

There has been no indication of an evacuation plan, he says. “If there was something, then it would at least give us hope…They have not even once said that yes, our students are there, we will get them out.”

The only advisory issued by the Indian embassy in Ukraine that mentions Sumy is the one issued on February 27 that urged students in Sumy to not venture out. This was tweeted minutes after an advisory asking students to leave regions of active conflict.

Before evening, news reports stated that Russia had arranged 130 buses to evacuate students from Kharkiv and Sumy, but no advisory had been issued by the Indian embassy in Ukraine about this at the time this report was filed.

“What we are most nervous about is the situation in Sumy becoming like Kharkiv…government told the students that they had no choice but to get out of Kharkiv immediately. I hope they aren’t waiting for the situation to get to that dire point before telling us to leave. This is what I am afraid of. Where will I go? There are no trains we can take, and the roads are extremely damaged…Nothing has happened to a student in Sumy…but are they waiting for something to happen and only then will they remember us?”

Asked what he will do after the conversation with Newslaundry, he said that he will return to answering calls from his family, and try to sleep, hoping for a better day.

Meanwhile, a student from Delhi has reportedly been shot at in Kyiv, union minister V K Singh said – days after another student was killed in Russian shelling in Kharkiv.

According to the government, nearly 17,000 Indian nationals have left Ukraine's borders in the past few days.

Also see
article imageUkraine: Amid ‘leave urgently’ advisory, Indians point to firing, fear and chaos


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