Day of terror for UAE-based students in Ukraine as they flee explosions at Kiev airport

Indian students anxious as ATMs run out of cash and they run low on funds for food

Sanabil SP, right, with Haneen Kuniyil, medical students in Ukraine at a bus station where they took shelter after explosions rocked Kiev airport. The students were booked to travel to Abu Dhabi when bombs hit the airport at the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. Photo: Sanabil SP
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Scores of Indian students fleeing Ukraine for their families in the UAE and home country were terrified when bombs went off at Kiev airport on Thursday, forcing them to leave the airport.

They heard Ukrainians shout out warnings: “The Russians are invading,” as passengers ran out amid loud explosions.

People were shouting: ‘Russia is invading’. Everyone panicked
Milin Susan Joseph, medical student

Many students had booked flights home but their plans were shattered when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military assault on Ukraine.

After fleeing Kiev’s Boryspil International Airport, a group of 35 waited for more than 11 hours at a bus shelter trying to find safe accommodation.

“When I heard the blast I was too scared. People were shouting: ‘Russia is invading’. We saw jets flying above. People ran out of the airport,” said Milin Susan Joseph, 23, a fourth-year medical student who had a flight booked to Trivandrum, India.

“Everyone panicked. We just got more and more scared. We didn’t know where to go. We saw six to seven buses outside the airport and we just got in.”

The students took shelter at a nearby bus station with dozens of other travellers.

Many students had travelled the night before for about eight hours by road from Zaporizhzhia State Medical University to Kiev airport.

“We will try to get back to the university. We don’t know how safe it is to travel because people are being told to stay home,” Ms Joseph told The National.

Ukraine residents left shaken by Russia's attack

Ukraine residents left shaken by Russia's attack

The sight of armoured vehicles and soldiers on the streets has added to their anxiety.

“We can see tanks and military vehicles on the roads. Everyone is scared out of hell,” said Sanabil SP, 23, also a fourth-year student who was booked on a flight to his family’s home in Abu Dhabi.

“We heard two blasts as we were reaching the airport. People began rushing out of the airport. They were saying that the Russians had invaded.”

Another concern is access to money, because ATMs at the bus station ran out of cash. One group managed to reach the Indian embassy but were told they would need to make their own arrangements.

“The situation is real and scary for us. I really want people to know that we need help getting to a safe place,” said Mr Sanabil. “There is no money in the ATMs. You need money even to go to the public washrooms.

“The [Indian] embassy said they don’t have space for 30 students but we need help to find a safe place nearby.”

By evening, they managed to contact other students living in universities in Kiev and hope to find shelter in dormitories.

Some took the last flight out of Ukraine before the air space was shut down and have reached the UAE.

“I’m safe now but half of me is still there [in Ukraine] because that is where my friends are,” said Mohammed Adil Javad, who landed in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, before the attack began.

“I’m hoping India will start an evacuation of students. They need help.

“There are students stuck between Zaporizhzhia and Kiev. They are in the middle of nowhere – not in the university and not at the airport. They are being told to find bomb shelters and tunnels for safety. We are all tense.”

About 18,000 Indian students are in Ukraine, according to government figures.

The embassy last week asked them to leave the country temporarily until the situation returned to normal.

But students said exorbitant air fares – more than 60,000 rupees ($792) one-way to India – and the absence of a clear message to evacuate meant that thousands remain in Ukraine.

“We would all left much before if we had been told we must leave immediately,” Mr Javad said.

“Also how can thousands of students leave in a few days? There are just not enough flights.”

The embassy said it was making arrangements for accommodation for students and asked them to familiarise themselves with the locations of bomb shelters.

“While the mission is identifying possible solution to the situation, please be aware of your surroundings, be safe, do not leave your homes unless necessary and carry your documents with you at all times,” the mission said.

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Updated: February 25, 2022, 6:28 AM