October 3, 2022
How social media helped Indian students stuck in Ukraine

A video of students holding Indian flags and threatening to travel to the Russian border on foot in the war-torn Ukrainian city of Sumy created an uproar in the national and international media, which, in turn, prompted Indian officials to fast- Track their withdrawal process.
As of Wednesday, all the students who were stranded have been evacuated from the city in northeastern Ukraine.

The incident provides a fitting example of how social media has helped those trapped in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

Ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, social media platforms have been flooded with videos and photographs of people, soldiers and even politicians stranded in the Eastern European country.

Jisna Jiji (25), a medical student who was among a group of around 700 Indian students who decided to travel across the border on foot, said social media played a key role in their evacuation.

“We had been requesting the authorities to do so as our resources started depleting and there was continuous shelling, but the request fell on deaf ears. Frustrated with no response, we decided to post a video on social media. It went viral and within hours, we got a response from the government and now, we are being evicted,” she said.

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A security guard standing near Indian and foreign nationals, evacuated from Ukraine
photo credit: PTI

Mobile phones in hand, soldiers and civilians are documenting the war as it unfolds.

Medical student Ausaf Hussain (25), a native of Kerala, was stuck in a metro bunker with his friends. Their resources were rapidly depleting and there was no sign of help.

So he decided to use his Instagram page, which is followed by a few thousand people, to document the day-to-day struggles at the bunker. He posted several videos that told horrific stories and showed buildings damaged by the constant shelling and bombings.

In several videos, he details their lives in bunkers, the kind of problems they were facing and how they were arranging drinking water and food to survive.

Speaking to PTI, Hussain said that he started documenting his life in the bunker so that people can watch the video and come forward to help.

He said, “When the war started, there was no one to help us. So we started recording videos so that those who saw them could help us. It was as if we were forgotten. Wasn’t asking about it.”

Hussain said that sharing the video on social media platforms helped in making people aware of the issues they are facing.

In the age of social media, mobile phones allow people to live watch the horrors of war sitting thousands of miles away. It also helps the families of those stranded in the war zone to get updates on the ground situation.

“It helped us to keep our parents updated as there was a lot of fake news going around. We projected the truth through social media,” Hussain said.

In addition, social media helped people coordinate with each other during the evacuation.

For the student coordinator, Seemash Sasidharan, it was difficult to manage the group of 800 Indian students stranded in Kyiv. However, with the help of a Telegram group, he was able to try and forward the necessary information to the group. This helped him keep an eye on the students.

“There was bombing going on everywhere and I had 800 students with me. We divided them into groups of 40-50, with two senior students managing each group. The students were scattered because there were four routes to evacuation.

Sasidharan said, “Internet helped us to coordinate between the students. We told them which route to take and where not to go. We formed a Telegram group of 800 people and I told them about the train timings. Keep informing.”

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An Indian national was evacuated from war-torn Ukraine along with his pet cat
photo credit: PTI

Social media platforms also helped the students to raise their issues with the embassy.

Sasidharan said, “With the help of social media, we complained about the embassy not being active and they became active. I was in touch with the embassy through social media. Social media helped us in making the world aware of the situation.” “

Kanishk, a first year medical student who arrived in India safely last week, said those who had fled Ukraine before him helped him through social media in finding a way to escape.

“We used a WhatsApp group to coordinate among ourselves. All news about the evacuation and updates from the Indian embassy were sent to the group. Even during the evacuation, we were asked to reach the border ourselves, so Students who were already on the run helped us to provide contact details of drivers and routes,” he said.

Not just civilians, officials in Ukraine, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, are using social media to dismiss Russian propaganda. Zelensky posted several videos showing him with other government officials and said the Ukrainian leader had not fled Kyiv as Russian forces entered the capital.

Ukrainian authorities also used social media to launch recruitment drives for foreigners and local hackers to join the war.

However, there were other aspects of social media that students had to face – trolling and fake news.

“We were trolled badly because people sitting thousands of miles away were abusing us for studying abroad,” Hussain said.

In a rapidly evolving war situation, it is quite difficult to distinguish fake news from real news.

“There was fake news all over the internet and as we were already panicking, it added to the concern,” Hussain said.

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