The government has been initiating evacuation programmes to get Indians in Ukraine back home to safety, with Russia’s invasion of its neighbouring country creating a warzone in Eastern Europe. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs high-level meetings in the national capital, his senior cabinet members have made a cross-continent travel to personally oversee the evacuation of Indians. Modi has also called on the Indian Air Force to join the rescue operations.
In its latest advisory to nationals still in Ukraine, India told them to “leave Kyiv urgently” on Tuesday, “preferably by available trains or through any other means available.” This notification comes ahead of reports that the Russian military is closing in on the capital city of Ukraine, where missile fire has already targeted residential neighbourhoods.
The situation is tense, with the whole world watching on in horror at the escalating distress in Ukraine. There is however an abundance of mean-spirited commentary on social media around the state of Indians stuck in countries far away from their own, in terse conditions of cold and combat.
‘Why did they go to study in Ukraine instead of staying back here? Why create an extra burden on the government during this time of international unrest? Shouldn’t they be paying the price of the brain drain now?’
These are just some questions being asked online, rather insensitively.
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Close to 20,000 Indians were present in Ukraine when it was attacked by Russia, with many of them being ferried back home now. A majority of this population comprises of medical students. Low cost and high-quality education make Ukraine a popular choice for Indians who cannot afford the exorbitant fee or gruelling entrance exams one needs to clear, to have a shot at medical degrees here.
It is unfortunate that so many of our students got stuck in a war-torn country, but frankly, the situation arose because no one saw it coming, or rather, no one believed that situation would escalate so quickly. Should these students be then held accountable for causing our government an “inconvenience” simply because they chose to study abroad? The world has made far too much headway into globalisation for anybody to be penalising an Indian national, or any other, for ‘why’ they packed their bags and left the country to pursue their aspirations elsewhere.
At a time of immense emotional upheaval, when thousands of lives have been flipped overnight and people are left taking cover against death in bomb shelters, can we pin blame on innocent civilians? Should Indians in Ukraine, far away from their homeland and families, have to face more hostility than they are already doing?
The circumstances are anyway not in their favour.
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Many videos, such as the one of a girl from Uttar Pradesh demanding to be evacuated, of students pleading on camera for urgent help are surfacing. As per reports, some Indians still in Ukraine are complaining on social media that the Indian embassy is not returning their calls.
Disturbing reports have also emerged of many Indians getting racist treatment by Ukrainian security forces as they try to cross the border into safety. “Ukrainians are given taxis and buses to travel, all other nationalities have to walk,” a young Indian student was quoted saying by CNN. She further alleged assault by border authorities against Indian men.
Do Indians deserve to be treated with malice by their own people, when they are being subjected to aggressiveness by others?
One tweet that has gone viral and generated a range of reactions reads, “Indian student Rashid Rizwan who had protested against CAA in Ukraine by calling Indian govt fascist, is now requesting Govt of India to evacuate him.” Democracy entitles its citizens to seek both ends. So must this accusatory narrative be spun to invite bitterness against stranded Indians calling their country for help?
The human cost of war cannot be estimated in mere numbers. These losses incurred are borne by generations, the grief handed down from experience to memory. To satiate the egos of top-seated men, thousands of lives are staked. Who deserves this?
Views expressed are the author’s own.