Boxer Neeraj Goyat’s rescue mission, Kharkiv to Rzeszow via Lviv
Having activated his network in Ukraine, the Indian pro boxer is helping India’s large student community escape the fighting and cross over to Poland
Indian pro boxer Neeraj Goyat was lounging in his Yamuna Nagar residence in Haryana two days ago when an acquaintance rang him. “He told me his child was stuck in Ukraine and asked me if I can do anything.”
“I spoke to my few contacts in Ukraine and ensured he got a safe passage. That’s when I thought there must be so many Indian students who may be in a similar situation. I realised I know quite a few boxers there, so why not use my contacts to get our people out?” says Goyat, a multiple-time World Boxing Council (WBC) Asian champion.
Thus began a rescue effort, on a smartphone, over 4,500 km from the war zone. Goyat immediately created a WhatsApp group of Ukraine-based boxers and officials and went about connecting distressed students with the group.
“It’s a nine-member group of boxers, officials and match-makers. The moment I told them my objective, they promised me to do everything in their capacity to help,” the 30-year-old says.
Goyat’s friends have set up base in the western city of Lviv, 70 km from the Polish border. The Ivan Franko National University of Lviv is serving as a temporary shelter. The Indian Embassy, having vacated its office in capital Kyiv, has also set up an office in Lviv to facilitate evacuation.
The priority of Goyat is to help the students, particularly from the strife-torn eastern part of the country, to reach Lviv. Once there, they are put in buses that carry them across the border.
“The students have an option to stay in Lviv for some time to rest and get their thoughts together. We have also made arrangements for food, but most of them want to exit Ukraine at the earliest. I am constantly assuring them to not do anything in haste,” he says.
“The biggest challenge is to arrange transportation from capital Kyiv to Lviv. My friends there keep me posted on the status of trains, trams and buses, which I pass on to the students. I speak to them once they reach Lviv, advising them which tram or bus to take to the shelter, where my friends take over. I have assured the students that I will make sure they cross the border safely.”
On Wednesday, Goyat tweeted the contact details of a local driver in Kyiv to ferry students to Lviv. So far, he has ensured the safe passage of “30-35 students” while 12-15 students have reached Lviv and will cross over to Poland soon.
“It’s a long journey (about 540 km) and naturally the students are worried. I got a lot of messages asking if I can arrange transportation. I immediately sent a message to that group, and within minutes they arranged a driver. That was a big help.”
By Wednesday evening, the first batch of students had reached Poland.
Amit Sangwan, one of them, recorded a video thanking Goyat.
“We have crossed the border and reached Poland safely. I am thankful to Neeraj bhaiya for helping us reach here. He has been of great help,” Sangwan says in the video.
The fourth-year medical student at Kharkiv Institute of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences saw an Instagram post by Goyat on Monday morning asking Indian students in Ukraine to reach out to him for help.
The 22-year-old did. “Neeraj told me to board a 6am train the next day. That was a big relief because just a few days back the area where I stay in Kharkiv was heavily shelled. It wasn’t safe at all,” Sangwan said from Rzeszow in southeast Poland where the Indian embassy has put up the students in a hotel.
The 20-hour train journey from Kharkiv to Lviv was excruciating. “There was a lot of commotion. All you could see around were Indian students trying to get on the train. There was nothing to eat, no space to move. It was hell. I suspect there are still over 3,000 students in Kharkiv and a lot of them are taking shelter in subways and train stations. The situation is really bad.”
It was only after reaching Lviv that they got something to eat. “We got bread, burgers and juices; nothing extraordinary, but life-saving for sure,” he says.
“I am no one to be thanked. Whatever I am doing is for humanity,” says Goyat, whose social media feeds are buzzing with messages from students. “My phone hasn’t stopped ringing. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, I am getting messages everywhere.”
Goyat is also getting messages from Sumy in northeastern Ukraine where over 600 Indian students are reported to be stuck in the Sumy State University.
“I am told Sumy is just 50-60 km from Russia, so the situation is quite grim. I am trying to get in touch with a contact there to get our students out.”
Actor Sonu Sood, whose philanthropy during the deadly second wave of Covid helped save a number of lives last year, has also reached out to Goyat through his Sood Charity Foundation.
“I got a call from Sonu Sood’s Foundation today; they are willing to join me in helping our students. It’s amazing how you keep finding good people when you set out to do something good,” he said.
Since Monday, when he started helping the stranded students, Goyat has barely rested.
“You have to treat it as a full-time, 24-hour job. I couldn’t sleep on Tuesday at all because the messages just won’t stop and I had to figure things out in Ukraine. I have no complaints though. That’s the least I can do sitting here.
“There’s a different definition of happiness for everyone. Some find happiness in money, some in cars. For me, the kick I get in helping people is unparalleled.”