5 balls, Rs 7 lakh loan, but I don’t regret going to Ukraine: The Tribune India
I had gone to Ukraine in search of a better future. Now, with five balls and a loan of Rs 7 lakh still pending, I don’t know what that has in store for me.
After graduating (Computer Science) from Punjab Technical University in 2014, I started working. But I wanted to improve my career prospects, so I decided to continue my studies. Last year I started researching higher education, asking friends and others around me. I started with the obvious destinations for Indian students – Canada, Australia, Schengen countries. But for someone from a middle-class family, studying in these countries was beyond my budget and my dreams. Ukraine appeared to be a sensible choice. The process to get there was easy, unlike most other countries. The level of education provided there was comparable to that of European educational institutions. Above all, the cost was much, much less. I chose to pursue a one-year PG Computer Science degree at the European International University in Kyiv.
I had saved a little but had to take a bank loan of Rs4 lakh and borrow Rs3 lakh more from my friends.
I arrived in Kyiv in July last year and rented a one-room apartment near my university. There were other Indian students in my department, but I barely had time to interact or socialize with them, as I worked part-time at a local restaurant to pay for my rent and food. There are very few Indian restaurants there, but plenty of Turkish ones. Initially there was a language barrier, but I quickly learned enough Ukrainian and Russian to pass. Life was hard but the place was nice and the people friendly. The law and order situation was normal and I never experienced any discrimination or racism. In fact, when I wore a turban, locals were mesmerized and happy to click selfies with me. Despite hard work, it was a happy life.
Then, on February 24, war broke out when Russia invaded Ukraine. People started fleeing in large numbers, by any means possible. We also tried, but the trains were full. On February 26, we went to the station to take a train to Lviv but were not allowed. The next day we hired a taxi to Lviv. We made it through the first two checkpoints but had to come back from the third.
The shooting started on the way home. I was sitting in the back seat of the taxi. Initially, we ducked and hid inside the car, but the gunfire continued. I managed to crawl out of the car and took shelter near a roadside wall. I could only protect my left side, my right side remained exposed. There was continuous shooting but I was too scared to look up to see if the shooters were Ukrainians or Russians. I pretended to be dead to escape the bullets, but I was not so lucky. The first bullet hit me in the chest. I was writhing in pain but trying to stay still. I could only hold out like this for half an hour. When I moved I was shot again, this time in the legs, right shoulder and arm. I then fainted. I woke up four days later in the clinical hospital in kyiv. Doctors told me that an ambulance came to pick me up from the scene of the shooting some four or five hours later, where I was unconscious and bleeding profusely. They had operated to remove the bullets and had not charged a penny.
After regaining consciousness, I tried to contact the Indian Embassy, but I couldn’t. I remember making at least 170 calls to the embassy. Finally, I was able to contact a Khalsa Aid volunteer. Upon learning of my plight, their founder, Ravi Singh, himself called me back and put me in touch with the Indian media. NDTV was the first to spotlight my story, others followed suit.
After that, the Indian government arranged my return and further treatment at Delhi Cantonment Base Hospital, where they operated on my left knee and put metal plates.
I got my leave on March 28. Doctors recommended therapy as I have no feeling in my right leg, shoulder and arm. Healing will be slow, as I would need at least a year and a half of additional treatment to regain some semblance of normal life.
Anyway, I don’t regret my decision to go to Ukraine. The situation was not in my hands. There is no chance of going back because it may take another 10 years before this country can rebuild itself. For now, my only goal is my recovery and paying off my debt, although I don’t know how I will go about it. I was told that from now on I would have to pay for my treatment. I don’t know if I can work in my current state. My father is 75 and retired. I am grateful to the government for my free treatment although I wish they could help a little more.
— The writer was shot in Ukraine
(As said to Renu Sud Sinha)