Around 40 Turkish students from Kharkiv are sheltering in a dormitory to secure themselves from constant bombardment.
Davut Cemallioglu marked his 27th birthday in an unexpected way yesterday as Russian bombs rained down in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, hitting the strategic city close to the Russian border.
Hailing from Samsun, in Türkiye's Black Sea province, Cemallioglu studies at the National Aviation Institute at Khai University, one of the best aerospace universities in Ukraine, founded in 1930.
Cemallioglu’s university is located between the Russian border and Kharkiv, one of Ukraine’s most populous cities, regarded by Moscow as a high priority location to be captured.
“We are located 29km away from the Russian border. This place is called Chkalova Street,” Cemallioglu tells TRT World, surrounded by his Turkish friends.
Despite the sounds of explosions echoing through their dorm room, he sounded calm and composed as he explained the situation over the phone for about 17 minutes.
Cemallioglu and all of his friends, including his female peers, were forced to go to a nearby bomb shelter. They have spent most of their time in the shelter as Russian military strikes make it hard for them to return to their dormitory rooms. Most of the students are in their 20s.
When asked who was in control of the city, the students said they couldn't tell at this stage of the conflict, as the university authorities do not allow them to venture out longer than a few minutes. Although they can step out to buy food and groceries, they cannot explore the city further. Most of them are expecting to run short of food and other essential supplies should the military conflict intensify.
“First, we heard that Russians took over Kharkiv, but later we also heard from people that Ukrainians liberated it from Russians,” Cemallioglu says. “It’s true that there is an intense bombardment all over the city.”
Cemallioglu’s eyewitness account reveals that the Russian assault is not going as smoothly as Moscow wants the world to believe. “The Ukrainian army fights. There are also resistance groups inside the civilian population,” he says.
“When we heard the first explosions around five AM in the morning, we were awake staying in our dormitory,” says Cemallioglu.
Depending on the ground situation, he and his friends are likely to be evacuated by the Turkish government any day now.
After the first wave of explosions, Cemallioglu and his friends coordinated to bring all other Turkish students from other universities into their dormitory. He says there are about 40 of them staying closer to each other, adding that in Kharkiv city alone there are at least 400 Turkish students.
“Today, we did not go outside because a bomb hit an old airfield close to our university,” he says. The airfield is nearly 800 metres away from their dormitory. He adds that they might run out of food and cash soon because they can’t get out.
All shops and small markets are closed across the city except some supermarkets, he says. Some Turkish students, who left the dormitory yesterday, saw that no food was left in open markets. But expecting the Russian attack, the Turkish students had already stocked some food like pasta and biscuits.
“Every hour with regular interruptions, we hear explosions. Constant explosions. We also see a lot of convoys passing in front of our location. We can’t distinguish whether they are Ukrainians or Russians,” he says.
There is a curfew enforced by the Ukrainian government day and night across the city, according to students. “University officials tell us that there are armed clashes on the streets of Kharkiv,” Cemallioglu says.
There were Russian tanks across the city centre, but the students have been informed that they are now gone. Students follow social media as much as they can to get more information about the situation.
A rocket landed in Karazin University in Kharkiv but luckily did not explode, Cemallioglu explains.
During the interview, the university’s maintenance staff were boarding up the dormitory windows for security reasons, one of Cemallioglu’s friends, who did not identify himself, tells TRT World.
Camallioglu says they are turning lights off to ensure their security. When he speaks, one of his friends says that the city is probably under the Ukrainian army’s control. “We are not sure about it,” says Cemallioglu, referring to various disinformation campaigns launched by different sides.
Cemallioglu and his friends also noticed that a lot of students had received messages like “You need to move towards the Polish border to ensure your security.” These messages may be part of a Russian cyberattack aiming to get people out of their safe places and create more chaos across Ukraine, Turkish officials told Cemallioglu and his friends during an online session.
Cemallioglu warns other students not to be deceived by messages like that or make mistakes like moving toward the Polish border.
“Due to war conditions, we are not sure when we could be evacuated, but we are safe here. The Turkish foreign ministry is in touch with us and our families to ensure our evacuation,” Cemallioglu says. “We are waiting for our evacuation.”
While talking to TRT World, Cemallioglu was informed by one of his female companions that fresh explosions were heard outside. Hearing that, Cemallioglu and his fellow students ended the interview and quickly moved to the bomb shelter.