First Casualty of Russia-Ukraine War

By M Raghuram, 1 Mar 2022

India reported its first casualty in the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Tuesday. A 21-year-old medical student Naveen Gyanagoudar has been killed in heavy shelling at Kharkiv – the second largest city of war-torn Ukraine. Naveen was in his fourth year of medicine at Kharkiv National Medical University. 

Pavan, Naveen’s batchmate, stated that Naveen had died while going to get amenities for the people he was hiding with. There were 12 students in the bunker where Naveen was hiding in, and he had volunteered to get food and water for his fatigued colleagues. “My friends told me that Naveen had gone out with a list to bring from the stores, but we became concerned when he did not return even after three hours but then we came to know about the tragedy,” says Pavan, who safely returned from Ukraine this Sunday. 

Naveen is from a traditionally agricultural household and was going to be the first medical professional in his family.  According to his father, Shekarappa Gyanagoudar, he had regularly discussed his dream with his parents. “We had a restricted budget in our family, so when Naveen was offered a medical seat in Ukraine, we were delighted to send him there and had completed all the necessary arrangements.” Mr Gyanagoudar had worked as an engineer in Saudi Arabia for a while before returning to India and was working in Mysuru for a few years before turning to agriculture on his own 2 acres of land in his village. “There were financial constraints in the family owing to the expense of medical education in Ukraine, but it was far less than the cost of medical education in India, which is why my brother chose to go to Ukraine with the express purpose of not burdening the family,” Harsha, Naveen’s older brother, explained.

Naveen was an academically gifted student and one of the top performers at Kharkiv for the year 2021-22. In a brief statement to the media, he said, “He was a good student and after every examination, he used to chat with us and share his score with us.” Vijayalakshmi, his mother, was distraught. Coming from a low-income household, Naveen excelled in his PU exams as well as the admission exams for medical schools in Ukraine, which are considered competitive exams in India. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai both contacted Shekarappa Gowda and expressed their condolences to his family. While addressing the media, Mr Bommai, who knew the family well, became emotional and took a long break to regain his composure. “For a long period, I knew Shekarappa Gowda, his family, and his brother,” Mr Bommai continued, “I had promised them that I would go to the top-level to get his lifeless remains to Chelgeri village. I have also spoken to Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar, who has assured me of help.”

The entire community had gathered at Naveen’s house, and his relatives had hurried to the Chelgeri hamlet to console the family. Relatives of the family were also in touch with the Indian MEA authorities. Harsha has been called by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials and has assured all the help in bringing back Naveen’s body safely to home. According to the information conveyed to Indian officials, Naveen’s body is being safely kept at a morgue in Kharkiv. 

Following the death of Naveen in Ukraine, the MEA have summoned the officials of the Russians and Ukrainian embassy and have sought their intervention in bringing back his remains. The MEA top officials have also urged the Russian and Ukrainian officials to get safe leeway to the students and other Indian nationals who are stranded in Kharkiv and Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine. They have been asked to extend transport facilities to the airports in the neighboring countries. For those in Kharkiv, the Russian government has been asked to give access to Russian airports which are just 40 kilometers from the border between Ukraine and Russia.