By Joshua George, a brief interview conducted over the phone

WHAT is it like being stuck in a war in Ukraine? Ask 19-years-old   young Goan student Jaeden Pereira, who is a second-year veterinary medicine student in the city of Sumy in Ukraine. When the Russian bombs began to rain on them on the first day of the war, that is February 24, 2022, there was general panic amongst the students at Sumy National Agrarian University and some of them fled to take refuge in bunkers built at the last minute. It is incredible but something like 500 Indian students are stuck in the war going on in Sumy.

Able to speak briefly to the Goan Observer reporter Joshua George in Panaji Jaeden confided, “These bunkers are really underground bunkers and barely functional, in a pretty filthy state now…it is also near pitch dark with no proper ventilation and sanitary facilities. We have to sleep on the floor without any bedding. There are some 500 of us here in these bunkers, we are suffocating and in dire straits….”

To a query about water, Jaeden responded, “thankfully there is enough water to drink but our belongings are in the college. We only have our passports on us.” As for food they have to venture out of the bunkers. It is aggravating because the only food available is in the government organized grocery shops, “where the lines are so long, you can imagine.”  On Tuesday an Indian student Navin Shekharappa Gyanagoudar in Ukraine’s 2nd largest city of Kharkiv was shot dead as Russian troops opened fire when students were in line at the grocery store.

Jaeden along with the other 500 Indian students are holed up in bunkers like this. The bunkers are filthy and have no ventilation and sanitary facilities.

Jaeden says he is in touch with the NRI officer of Goa Anthony D’Souza and the Collector Ajit Roy. There are currently another two Goans caught in the war conflict in Ukraine in the city of Kharkiv, or so he understands. The only way to escape, he says, is to be evacuated from the western border which touches Romania, “but at the moment we cannot travel because of the bombing going on. On Tuesday 1st March, Jaden told us that in the next couple of days venturing outside the bunkers was restricted as Russian troops were on the way to the city. The routine sound of bombs can be heard which indeed adds to the anxiety of the students holed up in the bunker.

The route to the western border near Romania involves travelling through Kyiv. On Tuesday when the student representative went to the railway station to enquire about travelling to the capital, the railway station was closed and no trains were commuting in and out of Sumy. They were informed that the railway lines were damaged due to the bombing and the repairing process is going on with no date given as to when services would resume.

On Tuesday, March 1st 2022. Jaeden put out a message of distress on his Instagram page.

On speaking to the NRI officer of Goa, Anthony D’Souza said, that he is in touch with the three remaining students in Ukraine including Jaeden. He confirmed that he has spoken to the Union Minister for External Affairs Mr Subramanyam Jaishankar who has affirmed the Indian Government is doing all that it can to ensure the safe passage of all the students back to India.

Over the past couple of days out of the 19 Goan students stranded in Ukraine 8 have reached Goa, 3 have reached Romania, 3 have reached Hungary and 1 is in Poland. However, Jaeden and two other students from Kharkiv whose names haven’t been disclosed are still stranded. The NRI officer said that there are plans in place to evacuate the remaining 3 students along with the other Indians in the next couple of days. Students will have to be transported either to Romania, Hungary, Poland or Moldova from where they can be airlifted.

Jaeden’s family are very anxious and tense about the situation. On speaking to his mother Anita D’Souza, she sounded extremely shaken and deeply concerned about the safety of her son. At this moment in time, the only solace is the fact that she can talk to Jaeden and know that he is safe. She has appealed to the State government and the Central Government to put pressure on the Ministry of External Affairs to fasten the evacuation process.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has advised all Goans in Ukraine to stay in touch with the Indian Embassy 24×7 on emergency helpline numbers +380997300483, +380997300428, +380933980327, +380635917881, +380935046170. Please follow the advisory issued by our Embassy from time to time.

In a series of tweets, the Chief Minister has given the contact details of the Nodal Officer, Government of Goa as under Anthony J D’Souza Director for NRI Affairs Secretariat, Porvorim. Mobile/WhatsApp No: 9850926003 Email: (a) (b)

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