“We were all sleeping when Naveen stepped out to buy food for all of us. We were hungry as the curfew did not allow us to go outside. We had run out of food and he went out to get us some,” said a sobbing Srikanth Channegowda, the last person to speak to Indian student Naveen Shekhargouda Gyanagoudar, who was killed in Ukraine’s Kharkiv city that has been hit by intense shelling and gunfire from advancing Russian forces.
He recalled how Naveen, who was always an early riser, must have stepped out as soon as the sun came up. Naveen and his roommates had decided to go to the closest supermarket to stock up on food as they had not eaten the previous night. Their supplies had depleted.
“I called him around 8am. That’s when he told me he was trying to get as much food as possible. He asked me to transfer some money so that he could buy more. I sent him 800 hryvnia (approximately Rs 2,000). I told him to come quickly. He said he will rush back. That was the last thing he told me,” said Srikanth who had become best friends with Naveen over the past four years.
Srikanth said that after ten minutes, he kept calling Naveen on his phone, but it remained unanswered. After some time, a woman who spoke in Ukrainian picked up the call and she was crying uncontrollably, he said.
“I asked a person who understood the native language to translate. That’s when we knew that Naveen had been killed. What we don’t know is whether he died due to shelling or by a gunshot. There was no shelling at around 8am. We don’t know where his body is?” said Srikanth, choking with emotion.
After the war broke out, the roommates moved to a bunker in the basement of their building and have been surviving on basic food like gruel and upma.
Of the nine roommates, five left the bunker on Monday evening to move towards the western border of Ukraine and board a flight to India. Naveen and three others decided to stay back until they could get help from the Indian authorities. The friends who were left behind were to make a plan to leave the place after consulting with their families.
Back home in Karnataka, Naveen’s father is inconsolable. After having lost his job in a factory during the pandemic, Shekhargouda Gyanagoudar turned into an agriculturist to make ends meet. He had spoken to his 21-year-old son on Monday night when he advised Naveen and his roommates to remain safe and venture out only when the curfew is lifted.
“I repeatedly told him to take care of himself. He asked me not to worry. He was a brave boy, but then he also told us that there was no help for the students holed up in bunkers in Kharkiv. They were waiting for the embassy officials to send them a vehicle and move them to a safer place,” Shekhargouda told this reporter over the phone from his home in Haveri, Karnataka.
Naveen had visited his parents in Haveri six months ago and assured them that he would come back to India and become a “good doctor”. “He had just 6 more months left before he completed his course. He had such a lovely heart and would always help anybody in need,” the grief-stricken father said.
Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai and senior BJP leader BS Yediyurappa spoke to Naveen’s family and assured all assistance from the government.
“We wanted to give Karnataka a son who is ready to heal people. Now all we ask the government is to bring our son’s body back so that we could give him a final farewell,” said Naveen’s father.