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Students Ashna Shahansha (extreme left), Fathima Nujum and Muhammed Adil who flew back to the UAE from Ukraine. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Three Indian students, who managed to take one of the last flights out of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv before the airport was closed due to the ongoing skirmishes, said they were relieved after reaching the UAE on Wednesday night, though they were still concerned about their friends who could not make it.

Medical students Muhammed Adil, 20, Fathima Nujum, 22, and Ashna Shahansha, 21, reached the UAE late on Wednesday night after flying from Boryspil to Abu Dhabi via the Netherlands.

“We took the last flight out of Kyiv,” Adil, who joined his parents and siblings in Sharjah told Gulf News.

“We had a narrow escape. We got to know about the airport closure and shutting down of the airspace only after reaching here,” said Fathima, who opted to go to her aunt’s house in Ajman instead of flying to her family in Kerala, India.

Speaking to Gulf News on Thursday, the students, who study in two separate universities, said they were initially supposed to take a flight from Kyiv to Istanbul and from there to Sharjah on February 22. However, they could not make it because they were told that there would be an inter-airport transfer and they needed a Turkish visa for that. Since they could not get it immediately, they could not fly.

Tension at airport

Fathima and Ashna are fourth-year medical students at Poltava State Medical University, while Adil is a second-year MBBS student at Zaporizhzhia State Medical University. Adil said he met the other students at the airport and they started helping each other to fly out of Ukraine. They said the airport was crowded with people trying to flee the country.

Fathima said they initially thought of returning to the university, but changed their minds after families advised them to somehow leave the conflict zone.

“We reached the airport at 8.30am on Tuesday. We had to stay there overnight as we finally got the ticket for a 10am flight on Wednesday,” said Ashna, whose father lives in Fujairah.

Adil said their flight was one of the last to leave Kyiv on Wednesday. “Within five-six hours, they closed the airport. Many students, including my friends who had reached the airport after I did, were turned away.”

Shocked about attacks

Her uncle in Ajman, Shafeer Shihabudeen, said it was extremely difficult to get tickets for them. “We were literally running around to get flight tickets for them. Most flights were getting cancelled. I had to contact the airport authority and the police over there to ensure they would not face any issues for their onward travel. Finally I could book tickets for all three of them.”

Why they flew out late

Like thousands of compatriot students in Ukraine, Adil said he had also decided to stay put till the gravity of the situation hit them. “I live in a place that is some nine to ten hours’ drive from Kyiv. Things were normal over there. We didn’t expect a war-like situation even though there were rumours. But none of us expected a sudden crisis like this.”

When the Indian Embassy informed that Indian students could leave Ukraine if their stay was not essential, Adil said many students were confused. He said the update from the university that offline classes might resume in the first week of March and skyrocketing airfares forced many students to wait and watch.

“I wish we were told to leave just like the United States and United Kingdom citizens were asked to. Many students who finally decided to leave are unable to fly home now.”

In the case of Fathima and Ashna, they said their university was located just one hour away from Karkieve. “There was a bomb blast in Karkieve. We don’t know what will happen to the Poltava region now. We are very much worried about our friends. Many students had stayed back because they were told to pay the full tuition fee before leaving. We are also worried about our future.”

Adil’s father, Dr Abdunnasar Vaniyambalam, who works with a bank in Dubai, said his family was relieved that Adil had reached home safely. “We had sent him a visit visa to the UAE almost a month ago and asked him to come back to us because of the rumours about a possible war. But, he kept saying everything was okay there. We are very much relieved now that he has reached us.”

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‘Half of me is still there’

However, Adil is not happy. “I don’t know what happened to my friends who were turned away from the airport. They didn’t know what to do, where to go. They haven’t reached the university yet. I am worried about them. I was lucky enough to fly at the last moment. But I am only half relieved as my friends and classmates are still back in Ukraine. I’m safe, but half of me is still there.”

The students said they were also worried about their friends and others running out of food and money. They said there was a mad rush to stock up on food and other essential items at supermarkets and there were long queues at ATMs.