A chocolate bar and 10km walk: Student returns to UAE from Ukraine after 3 escape bids


khaleej times, 06-03-2022 18:54:10


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Nikihila Liz Aby hoped it would be relatively easier to leave Ukraine.

Nikihila Liz Aby shared her traumatic experience with Khaleej Times on Saturday, March 5. 

An award-winning student, Nikihila Liz Aby, is a former Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) student. 

An award-winning student, Nikihila Liz Aby, is a former Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) student.

A chocolate bar and 10km walk: Student returns to UAE from Ukraine after 3 escape bids

While people kept saying there would be a war soon, Nikhila believed it was a bluff and did not expect it to amount to anything

After several harrowing attempts to escape war-torn Ukraine, a Ajman-based Indian expatriate student returned home to her parents in the UAE.

Nikihila Liz Aby, a 19-year-old second-year MBBS student of the Danylo Halytsky National Medical University in Lviv, Ukraine, returned home after two failed attempts to escape from the war-torn country. She walked 10km to Poland only to be rejected entry at the Polish–Ukraine border in her first attempt.

Surviving on one Snickers chocolate bar and some water a day, she could finally cross over to Poland on March 2. "I only succeeded in my attempts to leave Ukraine after the third attempt," said a traumatised Nikhila. After crossing the border into Poland, she was taken on a rescue flight from Rzeszow Airport in Poland to Hindon Air Force Station in Ghaziabad.

A day later, Nikhila reached home to her parents in the UAE. She shared her traumatic experience with Khaleej Times on Saturday, March 5.

UAE residents since 2012, Nikhila’s father, Aby Joseph, is an assistant professor at the forensic sciences department at Amity University in Dubai. "We survived six days of hell during the time she (Nikhila) was stuck there. We are so glad she is back home," said Joseph.

Russia began its devastating attack on Ukraine eleven days ago. About 351 civilians, including one Indian, have been killed in the attacks since February 24.

The journey out of Ukraine

"I woke up to the reality of Ukraine being attacked on February 24, the day the fighting began in Kharkiv and Kyiv," she said. While people kept saying there would be a war soon, Nikhila believed it was a bluff and did not expect it to amount to anything. "When the shelling began, the earliest tickets I could book out of Kyiv was on March 2," she said.

Since her college, the Danylo Halytsky National Medical University is located in the Western part of the country, closer to the NATO regions, Nikhila hoped it would be relatively easier to leave Ukraine. "My place was relatively safe. However, it’s an hour’s drive away from Poland since there was a heavy influx of refugees and foreigners trying to cross the border from Lviv.

"There was a serious shortage of food, water and medicines," she said. In her first attempt to leave Ukraine, education agents and senior University student groups arranged buses for pupils to travel to the border.

She added, "The first bus that took us to the border left us at least 10km away from the border. We had to walk towards the border."

When they wouldn’t allow people crossing by foot into Poland, Nikhila and her friends had to walk back to their hostel.

As the days progressed, more students began leaving her hostel. "On the 28th, I understood that no one was going to come and rescue us. We had to make it to the border somehow even though the Indian mission was advising us to stay put," she added.

In desperation, Nikhila and some friends enlisted the help of some charity groups to arrange buses to the border. She reached the bus stand at 10am, and at 6pm, the bus finally arrived. "Priority was given to pregnant women, children and some newborn babies. There were many of them present there along with refugees," she said.

With only two seats left on the bus, Nikhila chose not to travel as more people were in far more dire circumstances than her. "Besides, there were 14 of us in our group. I couldn’t get myself into a bus that other people desperately needed. The second attempt, too, was a failure. I went back to the hostel," she added.

Eventually, she moved into her hostel’s bunkers for safety reasons.

After realising that her University was organising trips for some first-year students to Hungary, a desperate Nikhila heard from friends that a safer border had opened up in Budomierz, Poland. "Finally, we were able to arrange a 20-seater minibus out of Ukraine. The driver was God-sent. We were dropped 800 meters away from Poland," she stated. After crossing the border, Nikhila was taken to a safe home arranged by the Indian mission in Poland. She flew to Indore onboard the Indian Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster.

 

’My education is now completely disrupted.’

Due to the pandemic, Nikhila, a former award-winning, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) student, couldn’t write her Grade 12 examinations in 2020. "I was graduating from school in 2020. Due to Covid-19, I couldn’t write one exam since CBSE cancelled it. I was awarded grades based on my overall performance," she said.

Moreover, the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), the all-India pre-medical entrance test, was delayed by several months that year.

The medicine student chose to study medicine in Ukraine to attain international exposure. "Ukraine is a top-rated education destination. After completing Grade 12, I wrote my NEET exams. Though I cleared the examinations and got admissions in the management quota, I chose to study in Ukraine since I wanted international exposure," she explained.

"I did not want to lose a year of my studies that year. That’s how I chose to study in Ukraine. The education costs are affordable as well," she said. Since her medical studies have begun, Nikhila has had to study on and off-campus due to the pandemic. "Now, with this crisis, I am not confident to travel to anywhere in Eastern Europe to pursue my education," she added.

Her father Joseph said, "Medical studies are expensive. I am considering sending her to Ajman Gulf Medical University or the RAK Medical University. She is a very studious child with many ambitions. We’re very unclear on what to do next."

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