Guwahati: When the flight took off from the Kyiv International airport, Radha* was writing her semester exams. Through the windows of her classroom, she saw a plane rising high up in the sky bringing to her all the memories of her home -- now nothing but a distant dream. Radha is among hundreds of students from Northeast India who are stuck in Ukraine and are longing for a ticket back home.
"There are more than twenty students from northeast India in my university alone," says Guwahati native Radha, adding, "These students belong to Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Similarly, hundreds of students are studying in different universities in Ukraine. In early June, a flight was arranged to bring back the students from Northeast India to Ukraine. But Radha, a first-year student of MBBS at Sumy State University was having her first-year exams."
Back home in Guwahati, Raju*, Radha's father is expectantly waiting for his daughter to return. "Now she is having her vacations till September 20th. It will be better if she could come home'" says Raju. He also approached the Indian Embassy in Ukraine and Air India officials. "While the embassy is yet to respond, Air India has responded positively and had asked me to follow their website," says the concerned father.
Though there are flights running to Delhi, these are not viable alternatives to the students of the northeast. Manash, another student studying in Ukraine said, "We need to undergo a mandatory quarantine for seven days. This is quite worrying when Delhi is witnessing a surge in the number of cases. If the government could arrange a direct flight to Guwahati, we could undergo quarantine in our home states itself."
Meanwhile, life in Ukraine has also turned problematic for these students. A country that has a population less than that of entire northeast India, Ukraine has over 53,000 COVID-19 cases. "The day we finished our exams, the rector of our university tested positive. We're in constant fear as we are staying in hostels," says Radha.
The hostels are renovated every summer when the students return to their homes for vacations. This time, Manash is worried that he and his friends will have to shift to an apartment outside, which could cost a mini fortune. Added to this is the steep rise in prices of commodities following the lockdown. This has made lives more difficult for students coming from humble family backgrounds or for the ones on a student loan.
Over 1,926 flights have been operated under Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) since May 7th. Although four phases of the mission stand successfully completed, there have been no flights to Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi international airport, the only international airport in the region. Until now, only one connecting flight from Kiev to Guwahati via Delhi was operated on June 1 under the VBM, and there are scores of others who are looking to head back.
* Names have been changed as the respondents preferred not to be identified.