Srinagar- The killing of an Indian student in Ukraine on Tuesday has heightened fears of families of more than 100 Kashmiri students still stuck in war ravaged Ukraine. With major cities of Ukraine already on the 'no flight mode' stranded Kashmiri students are finding it hard to find an exit route from the war zone.
"It's getting tough by the day," a Kashmiri student told Kashmir Observer minutes before his phone went off. "It's like a death trap here. You fear missiles inside shelters and fret over the bloody war on the streets."
Amid this dreadful situation, these Kashmiris--for the very first time--sent home a detailed account about their failure to leave the country on time.
Why Couldn't They Leave
Several Kashmiri students that Kashmir Observer reached out said they chose to stay back in the country due to campus compulsions, fake normalcy by the citizenry and false assurances by the embassy.
"In the second week of January, the Indian embassy asked students to submit a form with their contact details, passport number, temporary address in Ukraine, university's name, course name and year of admission," said Mir Asif, a Kashmiri student.
"The embassy issued no specific reasons behind this sudden activity leaving us all baffled."
At the fag-end of January 2022, several foreign embassies in Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv had already issued an advisory for their citizens, who were putting up in the country, to stay alert.
The advisory had come in reaction to the Russian armed fortification on the Ukrainian border.
All of these countries had asked their respective embassy staff to "leave immediately" and had also advised citizens "to consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options."
But while these foreign students were allowed to leave after their embassies requested the university authorities, Indian students were left to fend for themselves in the battleground.
As war reached their doorsteps, Kashmiri students studying in medical universities in Kharkiv, Sumy, Odessa, Kyiv and Oblast contacted their universities to allow them to leave the country.
"While the road to Kyiv was gradually lining with additional military checkpoints three main medical universities of Ukraine, Uzgordu University, Kharkiv Medical National University and Kyiv Novkova University were trying to downplay the reports of an imminent war," said Arsilan Ahmad, a medical student in Ukraine.
While apprehensions of war were slowly taking over these young doctors, the universities continued to reject their requests of campus closure--stating two main reasons: Indian embassy hasn't issued any advisory for its citizens in Ukraine and Ukrainian Government has denied reports about any Russian invasion.
"This was exactly at a time when the outskirts of the city were being fortified with an improvised construction of cement blocks and sand bags," Arsilan said.
While Ukrainians were making military preparedness amid ominous signs of looming war these students were desperately looking for an advisory from their embassy in Kyiv.
An official at the Indian embassy responded to an SOS from a Kashmiri student: "The officials at the Indian embassy are staying put in Ukraine and you don't have to worry. Don't create unnecessary panic. Russia won't attack," Arsalan disclosed.
Meanwhile Ukrainian universities had turned down students' requests to attend classes online from home, leaving them with no choice but to stay put despite palpable fears of war.
Was University's Nod Necessary?
Ukrainian Universities have some already laid down rules. After almost every class in the medical universities, the students have to sit for a work-up--an exam which they're mandated to qualify for.
If somehow, these students fail to attend that exam, they'll have to pay a fine and request the subject head to allow them to appear again.
If the head of the subject accepts the students request then the student has to submit an application to the university seeking a re-appear.
"But if somehow we fail to submit the necessary application in one month, then a hefty fine is imposed on us," said Shahid Habib, another Kashmiri student in Ukraine.
"And if the same continues for two months from the date of commencement of original exams then the University can expel the liable student, that too, without giving any specific reasons."
The second laid down rule in Ukraine's medical University is that a third year to fourth year student is mandated to qualify the KROK exam--a Licensing examination in Ukraine and an obligatory part of state certification for awarding the qualification of doctor or pharmacist.
If anyhow these students fail to appear for the exam, they're directly considered to fail and subsequently their whole one year of degree is disbanded.
Notably, almost 50 percent of the Kashmiri students currently studying in Ukraine's Government Medical Universities are either in third year or the fourth year. And that's exactly what had forced these students to stay behind in absence of any official advisory to the contrary and despite repeated pleas by families back home.
"On February 14, when Ukranians were preparing for war Kashmiri students were forced to attend classes to present a fake facade of normalcy," Shahid said.
The Indian embassy issued its first advisory on February 16, two days after White House announced that Russia was about to invade Ukraine.
"In view of the uncertainties of the current situation in Ukraine, Indian nationals in Ukraine, particularly students whose stay is not essential may consider leaving temporarily," the Embassy had said in a public notice.
Students felt relieved that finally they had a formal advisory to convince the university to revise their decision.
But universities refused their request with the pretext that the advisory was for those engaged in 'non-essential' work but their "education was essential".
"See, your Government has clearly written that only those whose stay isn't essential should leave. Your stay in this country is essential," a University official had told a Kashmiri student. "But, if you still want to leave, go!No one is stopping you. But remember you'll be expelled," Shahid disclosed.
With the same fear enforced upon these doctors, they kept on attending their classes ignoring fervent pleas of their families in Kashmir to leave Ukraine.
"But how could we," asked Shahid. "The reason was quite clear. It was a hostage situation for us."
The Ukrainian Government had clearly instructed the universities to not allow these students from leaving the country, knowing that closure would spark panic among the public.
"It was never about expensive air tickets, but it was all the Ukrainian government's decision to somehow maintain facade of normalcy and sense of calm among its citizens and we were made scapegoats," Shahid said.