Periods, filthy washrooms: Plight of Indian women stranded in war-torn Ukraine

Hyderabad: “SUMY is our top priority,” remarked the spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Arindam Bagchi on Saturday. The spokesperson was of course speaking about Indian students stuck in Sumy, a noreasthern city in war-torn Ukraine. At the moment, there is no clarity on what the MEA plans to do and how, if at all they plan on rescuing Indian students stuck in Sumy state university.

After reports of students melting snow to collect water for drinking emerged, reached out to a few female Indian students to better understand what other indignities they were troubled with.

“The washrooms have not been cleaned for the last four days. We don’t have water since the last two days. With too many people using one washroom, and no body cleaning it up, the toilets get dirty in an hour,” remarks Anupriya Khare, a student stuck in one of the hostels in Sumy. She further adds that with men and women using one washroom in some of the hostels, it makes things a little uncomfortable.

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“Our male batch-mates have been very accommodating and understanding. They ask us to stay put in the hostel and step out, risking their lives, to go collect any amenities if and when needed. But a general discomfort exists,” she says.

A similar sentiment about hygiene was remarked by Ashwin Sandhu, another woman enrolled at Sumy. “No water essentially means nothing gets flushed. A few of my female friends who are menstruating are afraid to use the washroom. Its dirty and it stinks. One is not even in a position to step in,” she adds.

Adding to these accounts, Shivangi, a third year medical student, informs this reporter how big a problem the lack of water poses. “The elevators in the hostel don’t work. If we need water, we have to walk half a kilometre away from our hostels and there is always the fear that a new explosion could rear its ugly head. To add to this we have to walk back in the freezing climate (-6 degrees).”

Shivangi remarks that she is about to start menstruating soon and while the students have stocked up on sanitary pads, there is no telling what could follow next. “All stores are shut. We would not know where to go for amenities if we are stuck for longer periods of time.”

“We feel very thirsty during this time of the month. However, water has to be regulated. With no water available, I end up using a fresh sanitary napkin to clean myself while disposing the previous one. This is what my sister does well,” says Joanna* (name changed), a student hailing from Maharashtra.

But as Anupriya stated, hygiene and basic needs have been sidelined for now. “This is the least of our concerns for now. Our lives are in peril,” she says.

The water supply was cut off two days ago owing to a huge explosion. Two to three bombs detonated continually. The detonation was close to the hostel and rendered the power plant and water supply powerless.

“I was standing by my window when the explosion happened. The leftover smoke looked like mushrooms. The sky changed colour from orange to purple. All of us rushed out on to the stairs. Two women fainted. Hygeine is barely a concern now. The last few days have been traumatising,” adds Shivangi.

The students have decided to stay put after the MEA assured them of help. While evacuation is supposedly in the works, Joanna remarks that she’s lost hope but forces herself to hold on to it. “The lack of hygiene is disgusting. I hope help comes our way soon. My younger sister (also stranded in SUMY) is barely 18 years old. We are very scared,” she concludes.

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