Ukraine crisis: Karnataka girls travel 1,300km amid bombs and bullets to safety

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An inspiring tale from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis at a time of distress about two girls from the Indian state of Karnataka has shed light on hope for the future. These two girls managed to travel a distance of over 1,300km inside a private car with three of their friends, staying on the road for two continuous days and having little to no food, watching bombs and bullets wreak havoc in the locales they passed by.

Rachana Shree from Bengaluru and her friend Suneha Thippeswamy from Chitradurga, both fourth-year students of Zaporizhzhia State Medical University, Zaporizhzhia, had initially booked tickets to India for February 23 and were waiting at the airport when they received a despairing piece of information that the airspace closure had been announced, thus forcing them out of the airport in Ukraine.

With no option in sight, both the friends escaped to their friend’s place in Kyiv. The same night there were reports of heavy shelling in the Ukrainian capital on February 24. Suneha informed that one of their medico friends studying at Kyiv University drove a car part-time when they reached him as he was waiting. On reaching Kyiv, quickly all of them “packed bags and got ready to evacuate,” Suneha recalls.

“The shelling was getting heavier,” by 11 pm when they decided to leave the city for Uzhhorod, a border area, shared Suneha. “We grabbed whatever we had,” and taking along two more students from Andhra Pradesh; they sped off the car.

Rachana narrated, “There were advisories from the embassy to carry Indian flags,” but they did not have any. So, Suneha and her friends took some A4 sheets, coloured them using crayons and stuck them on the car. When they hit the road, Ukrainian soldiers had stopped and asked them to drive without headlights so they can avoid being noticed.”

Their part-time driver friends drove the Skoda for 48 hours, stopping only four times to refuel. “We did not eat any meals,” Rachana remembers. They had a few packets of chocolate milk, but they didn’t drink it much to avoid going to the toilet. After crossing Lviv, some Ukrainian soldiers gave the students some bread to eat. By then, they had spent around Rs 30,000 on fuel.

The students recalled watching desperate scenes of war unfolding in front of their eyes as their ears were deafened with the sounds of missiles and bombs. “There were bombs exploding right in front of our eyes,” said Rachana, saying she felt “the universe was collapsing.”

At one point, they were parked behind a police vehicle with more cars behind them, and they stood still without making any noise. They watched for the night as Rachana felt she “wasn’t sure if we would see the next sunrise.”

The next morning when shelling had subsided, amid checkpoints and cries, they drove on. All the while, the students were in touch with their parents and the embassy, while by midnight on February 26, they managed to reach a hotel in Uzhhorod where they had their first proper meal and slept after 48 hours.

On February 27, their friend took his car back to Lviv to help others, while the four Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh students later joined other Indian students who were being boarded in a bus to take them to the embassy. The students finally reached India on March 6. Their friend who drove them to the city, too, is back in India after his rescue mission in Lviv.

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