HYDERABAD: In February 24, as the world was coming to terms with Russia attacking its neighbour Ukraine, a 37-year-old Dr Divya Raj fielded frantic calls from stranded Indian students. A group of 54 students from the Zaporizhzhia State Medical University (ZSMU) had called her saying that they were stuck at the Boryspil International Airport near Kyiv. Even though Air India flights were prevented from landing in Ukraine, Divya managed to orchestrate the evacuation of many Indian students.
With having stayed in Ukraine for over 18 years and an associate professor of the ZSMU, she has created a network of contacts, who helped her in the endeavour. While the Indian government was still figuring out plans to evacuate students to Hungary and Poland, Dr Divya, using her sources, got the 54 students evacuated to a nearby Metro station, from where they were accommodated in the hostel of another medical university in Kyiv. However, the challenge was to move them to the western areas of the eastern European country so that they could get flights from Hungary, Slovakia or Poland.
She urged Olexandr Vasilyovich Starukh, Head of State Regional Administration in Zaporizhzhia, Yuri Mihalovich Kolesnik, the Chief Rector of the university, the Vice-Chancellor and the Railway officials, to find a way for the evacuation of students. While they got back with an offer to ferry 50 students per day to Lviv, from where they could go to the border near Poland by bus. However, seeing the risk, she rejected their proposal and urged them to arrange a train to Uzhgorod, from where they could go to Hungary or Slovakia.
On February 28, her persistence paid off. A special train was arranged and all the students were taken to the station in special buses, escorted by 100 security officers of the university. As the train arrived, Ukrainians occupied most of the seats and only 1,000 students were able to board the train. Among those left on the platform were 300 girl students. Within two hours, Dr Divya managed to arrange another train to evacuate the remaining students. From Uzhgorod to Chop railway station, and then to Zahonny, where the immigration process for the students was completed and to the border check posts of Hungary, she ensured that the evacuation process was carried out with any hiccups.
Using WhatsApp groups, Zoom calls and her network of around 100 volunteers from Seva International, Red Cross and Indians living in Ukraine, she took up the entire cost of ferrying the students till they reached Budapest. “We were evacuated on February 28. The very next day Russians attacked the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia. We can’t imagine what would have happened if Divya ma’am had not saved us,” Dr Mukesh Varma, one of the evacuees, tells Express.
While the Central government Ministers back in India seem only concerned with the photo-ops with returning students, Dr Divya worries about their uncertain future. As authorities still scramble to find to way to accommodate the returning students into the medical sector, Dr Divya tells Express, “The question is not whether to politicise the evacuation or take credit for it. The question is what are we going to do about it now, and are we competent to do it or not.”
Students have about one-and-a-half months left for the end of their academic year and universities have decided to conduct online classes. However, students will still miss out on practical work. To address this, Divya has been reaching out to hospitals in various cities, requesting them to allow the students to complete their practicals.
“The months of June, July and August is vacation time for the students. It is at that time that we get some breathing space to chalk out future plan of action, but it is now that we need the support of State and Central governments. We are still waiting to see how they can help these students,” she says.
If at all the government in Ukraine falls, she says that the final option would be to relocate the university to other countries in the European Union, with whom the university has an understanding. “However, there could be universities that are permanently shut down. What would happen to the future of Indian students studying there, is the pressing takeaway from ‘Operation Ganga’,” Dr Divya comments.
Used her extensive network for evacuation
Using WhatsApp groups, Zoom calls and her network of around 100 volunteers from Seva International, Red Cross and Indians living in Ukraine, Dr Divya took up the entire cost of ferrying the students till they reached Budapest. She also urged Olexandr Vasilyovich Starukh, Head of State Regional Administration in Zaporizhzhia, Yuri Mihalovich Kolesnik, the Chief Rector of the university, the Vice-Chancellor and Railway officials for help