NEW DELHI — The death of an Indian student in the fighting in Ukraine on Tuesday has brought into focus India’s challenge of evacuating nearly 20,000 of its citizens who were stranded in the country when Russia’s invasion began.
Naveen Shekharappa, a fourth-year medical student in Kharkiv, was killed when he left a bunker on Tuesday to fetch food, Indian officials and his family members said.
As of late Tuesday, about 8,000 Indian citizens, mostly students, were still trying to make it out of Ukraine, according to India’s Foreign Ministry. The evacuation process has been complicated by active fighting, with the students struggling to make it to jammed border crossings.
“Many of my friends were on the train last night to get out of Ukraine. It was scary, as the Russian border is barely 50 kilometers from our place and Russians were firing to capture territory,” said Stuti Kashyap, a second-year medical student who made it back to India on Feb. 21.
As the conflict has intensified in recent days, Indian students have walked miles in freezing temperatures to cross into neighboring countries. Many posted videos from their underground bunkers and hostel rooms, pleading for help. Other students accused security forces at the borders of racism, saying they were made to wait longer only because they were Indians.
India has a huge young population and an increasingly competitive job market. Seats in Indian government-run professional colleges are limited, and degrees at private universities are expensive. Thousands of students from the poorer parts of India pursue professional degrees, particularly in medicine, in places like Ukraine, where the cost can be half, if not less, of what they pay in India.