Thousands of Indian students who were left stranded in war-torn Ukraine had to undertake a perilous journey on foot from Ukrainian cities to the borders, and go without food and water for days before they could safely reach their homes in India.

Students who had left India to pursue medical education in Ukraine had to hide in bomb shelters after cities like Kharkiv and Lviv were attacked by Russian forces. One of the students lost his life in one of the shelling attacks.

It was not just Russian strikes that made survival and rescue difficult for these students, they also faced discrimination from Ukrainians trying to flee the country.

"Ukraine soldiers came and started beating foreigners and asked us to go anywhere else. We had nothing to eat and drink. For three to four days, we continued standing in lines," Rehan, one of the students rescued from Ukraine, told The Independent.

The Indian government had launched "Operation Ganga," to rescue its students from Ukraine. But the students have claimed that the help came too late and the operation was merely an attempt by the government to save face.

"The Indian government didn't provide any help in Ukraine; all the arrangements were in Poland. And obviously, we needed help in Ukraine," said another student.

25-year-old student Srishti Singh claimed: "The embassy worked only from nine in the morning to 5 pm. On Sunday when the embassy was shut, they didn't provide food." She finally managed to fly home on March 2.

Many Indian students had shared posts on social media about being stuck in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. They had also alleged that they were being harassed and assaulted by Ukrainian guards at the country's border with Poland.

"Indian students are being tortured here (at Poland border) by Ukrainian border guards": Mansi Chaudhary, an Indian student in Ukraine

— Srinivas BV (@srinivasiyc) February 27, 2022

Received this video from Kuhu Katariya from Panipat, Haryana. She along with hundreds of Indian students are stuck in Sumy, Ukraine and are waiting for the Indian government to evacuate them. These students are running out of food and water.#SumyStudents

— Himmat Shaligram (@himmatshaligram) March 4, 2022

"They [Ukrainian guards] did not allow Indian people on any train, they were only allowing Ukrainian women and children. They pushed Indian students aside and told us we are not allowed," said Singh.

The Indian government had to then send four of its ministers to countries neighbouring Ukraine so they could personally oversee the rescue mission abroad.

Ukraine war
People waited in a long line to cross over the Irpin river on makeshift walkways of planks and mangled metal Photo: AFP / ARIS MESSINIS