Several Indian students in Ukraine trudged 35km in freezing temperature to reach the border with Poland hoping for an escape from the ravaging war, but are now stuck there with little or no food and shelter.
Sleeping in parks in temperature below minus 4 degrees, their food stocks dwindling and their phone batteries dying, the students who reached the border point on Saturday pleaded for help to put an end to their ordeal and the uncertainty over their evacuation.
"It was an extremely long walk and our bodies were giving up but we just kept moving taking care of each other in the hope that once we reach the border, maybe, the worst will be over. But that's not the end, several hours later we are still waiting. We have tried all helpline numbers but there has been no response," Nrupakshi, a student of Horbachevsky Ternopil National Medical University, told PTI over phone.
Nrupakshi, who hails from Gujarat, said, "We are sending out as many SOS messages we can as our phones' batteries are just about to die."
Nikhil Kumar of the same university said, "None of the phone numbers provided by the embassy is working. We have tried a lot calling each of them. We slept in the park and the open area with a few of us falling sick. We have run out of food items and there is no place to stock up again. When will this end?"
Kumar said there are 400 students stuck at the Polish border waiting to cross.
Ashutosh, a student of Danylo Halytsky Lviv National Medical University, said, “We came half the way in bus but were dropped midway and then we kept walking for over 30 km taking breaks even though the (air raid) sirens ripped our heart each time thinking this is the end."
"We are also sending out messages to students who are on the way to here or planning to start on foot to not come to this border and explore some other alternatives," he added.
"We are nearly 300 students stuck here without shelter in minus four degrees temperature at Shehyni-Medyka border...No one is giving answer. Also we came here by walking 35 km, so no chance of going back," another student said.
The Indian embassy in Ukraine said on Twitter on Saturday that Indian citizens should not move to any of the border posts without prior coordination with the Indian government officials there using the helpline numbers.
The embassy had said that it is finding it increasingly difficult to help the crossing of those Indian nationals who are reaching border checkpoints without prior intimation.
It said that staying in western cities of Ukraine with access to water, food, accommodation and basic amenities is relatively safer and advisable compared to reaching border checkpoints without being fully abreast of the situation.
India is evacuating its people stranded in Ukraine through bordering Hungary, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Romania as the Ukrainian airspace was shut down following Russian bombing of several cities, including the capital Kiev.
The first evacuation flight, AI1944, bringing back 219 people from Bucharest to Mumbai landed in the evening.
The second evacuation flight, AI1942, carrying 250 Indian citizens landed at the Delhi airport around 2.45 am on Sunday.
Air India's third evacuation flight, AI1940, which has departed from Hungarian capital Budapest, is also scheduled to return with 240 evacuees to Delhi on Sunday.
Indian nationals who reached the Ukraine-Romania border and Ukraine-Hungary border were taken to Bucharest and Budapest, respectively, by road with the assistance of Indian government officials so that they could be evacuated in these Air India flights.