The View from India | Caught in a conflict

Understand international affairs from the Indian perspective with View From India

Updated - March 08, 2022 10:01 pm IST

Published - March 07, 2022 06:51 pm IST

The Indian students have taken refuge in the basement of their college hostel at kyiv in Ukraine. 

The Indian students have taken refuge in the basement of their college hostel at kyiv in Ukraine.  | Photo Credit: Abraham Mills

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Thousands of Indian students have been caught in the middle of the crisis in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, and concerns are growing for those still awaiting evacuation. As of Sunday (March 6) India had brought back 15,920 nationals on 76 flights under the evacuation mission ‘Operation Ganga’. However, around 700 students were still trapped in Sumy, where a ceasefire was announced on Monday (March 7) to enable their evacuation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke separately to both Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday (March 7) afternoon, urging direct negotiations as well as assistance to enable civilian evacuations.

The Government of India this weekend said it was “deeply concerned” about the students trapped in Sumy on the frontline of the war, with nearly 600-700 students at the Sumy State University spending the last 10 days holed up in bunkers at their hostel.

The Hindu’s Jagriti Chandra spoke to some of them. “There is no water, no food, no electricity for the past two days and the bombings keep getting worse every passing day. Often bombs land a few hundred metres away from us,” said Zara Azan.

Watch: A video message from students in Sumy

We reported on other harrowing stories of those who managed to leave. One Indian computer techie and his family showed exemplary valour to rescue a couple and their two-month-old child from Kyiv by helping them in gruelling cold weather and a tiring three-day journey back to motherland. The software professional, Baroon Varma, and his wife Smita Sinha, comforted, provided food and ensured the safety of the Bankda family from Mumbai in a journey which neither of these families had ever dreamt of.

S. Vijay Kumar tells the story of Charan Raj, a third-year medical college student in Kharkiv, and his arduous journey to Lviv. The 20-year-old student from Madurai told us about his 72-hour run-up towards taking the last train to freedom.

While India’s focus has been on evacuating its citizens, on the diplomatic front, New Delhi has continued with abstaining on UN resolutions. On Thursday, India, once again, abstained as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted 141-5 (35 abstentions) to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling on Moscow to unconditionally withdraw its troops.

On Friday, India abstained on a vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as the Council decided to set up an international commission of enquiry into Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The resolution, the strongest one to be adopted by the UN system yet, “strongly condemned” aggression by Russia, and said it was “gravely concerned” about reports of human rights violations by Russian forces, civilian casualties and the forced displacement of 6,60,000 refugees due to Russian “bombing and shelling” in populated areas.

In the latest episode of Worldview, The Hindu’s National and Diplomatic Affairs Editor Suhasini Haidar examines India’s evacuation policy for the diaspora. You can watch (or read) her take here.

More of our coverage on Ukraine

Ukrainians crowd under a destroyed bridge as they try to flee across the Irpin River in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022.

Ukrainians crowd under a destroyed bridge as they try to flee across the Irpin River in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022. | Photo Credit: EMILIO MORENATTI

  • The Hindu’s Nistula Hebbar spoke to India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on India’s stand on the Ukraine crisis. He said India had consistently called for talks and diplomatic efforts at resolving the Russia-Ukraine war, and that India did not see the India-Russia relationship only in the context of this crisis.
  • Last week, Prime Minister Modi and leaders of Japan and Australia took part in a suddenly convened “Quad Summit” hosted by U.S. President Joseph Biden on Thursday to announce a new mechanism for humanitarian assistance in the Indo-Pacific, and the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the region. The meeting came even as deep divisions appeared within the Quad grouping, as India has chosen to abstain from every vote at the UN and other organisations that criticised the Russian attacks on Ukraine in the past week, while the U.S., Japan and Australia have been calling for a tough line on Moscow.
  • The Hindu, in an editorial, said that while evacuating Indians is an important priority, it cannot be India’s only focus in this crisis, given its aspirations for global leadership and the oft quoted motto of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. It may become necessary for India to engage more deeply with the conflict in Europe, which is now a global concern.
  • Defence officials said the Indian Army’s preparedness is unlikely to be impacted due to sanctions on Russia, a key defence partner for India.
  • Why has the international world order failed to prevent the war? Suhasini Haidar posed this question to Mohan Kumar, Professor at the O.P. Jindal Global University and former diplomat, and Asoke Mukerji, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations from 2013 to 2015, in this Podcast.
  • Narayan Lakshman explains NATO’s eastward expansion and the roots of the current crisis.
  • Prashanth Perumal examines how sanctions against Russia may impact the long-term supply of wheat, oil, metals and other goods.
  • We report on what is driving China’s calculus on the Ukraine issue. If China’s policymakers are facing a tightrope walk as they calibrate their response to the Ukraine crisis, caught between close ties with Russia and concerns that their stand will aggravate already fraught relations with the West, one abiding Chinese foreign policy concern is likely to tilt the balance – its all-consuming rivalry with the U.S.

The Top Five

What we are reading this week – the best of The Hindu’s Opinion and Analysis

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin prior to their meeting at Hyderabad house in New Delhi. | File

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin prior to their meeting at Hyderabad house in New Delhi. | File | Photo Credit: KRISHNAN VV

  1. Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, formerly India’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations, writes that the only lasting principle in foreign policy is the principle of national interest. However, if the war continues, resulting in large number of civilian casualties, it will make it extremely difficult for India to maintain the non-aligned position for long.
  2. Ranjan Mathai, a former Foreign Secretary, writes on the economic sanctions aimed at Russia and how they might change the Russia-Europe energy relationship and specifically the impact on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
  3. With the spotlight on Indian students in Ukraine, where there were more than 18,000, Ramya Kannan examines the phenomenon of Indian students going abroad in greater numbers, particularly to study medicine.
  4. On a related subject, Sanam Arora and Vignesh Karthik argue for the need for a safety net of students abroad and how this could be explored through agreements with host countries.
  5. On China-Afghanistan relations, Stanly Johny and Ananth Krishnan look at how pragmatic motives like security concerns in its western frontiers have forced China to build ties with Taliban.

Neighbourhood Watch

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, Feb. 4, 2022. | File

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, Feb. 4, 2022. | File | Photo Credit: Alexei Druzhinin

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday (March 7) accused the United States of trying to build an “Indo-Pacific NATO” using the Quad and its allies, and said “some forces” were seeking to “stoke tensions” between China and India as well as “sow discord” between China and Russia. Wang, in his annual press conference along the sidelines of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) or Parliament in Beijing, also spoke about India-China relations, acknowledging recent “setbacks” and calling for an improvement in ties.

At the NPC, China announced a 7.1% hike in its defence spending as well as an annual GDP growth target of “around 5.5%” for the coming year.

Last week, new U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Donald Lu testified before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and discussed India’s relationship not just with the U.S., but also Russia, China and its Indo-Pacific neighbourhood. He said there was “growing convergence” in the relationship, while also expressing concerns over human rights in India.

India on Friday (March 4) called upon Sri Lanka to take “necessary steps” to address the “legitimate aspirations” of the Tamil community, while reiterating its earlier stance that it is in Sri Lanka’s “own interest that the expectations of Tamils in Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity, within a united Sri Lanka, are fulfilled”.

Meanwhile, reaching out directly to the Tamil Nadu political leadership for the first time, Sri Lankan fishermen have urged Chief Minister M.K. Stalin to come up with a “progressive” solution to the fisheries conflict that affects fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu and war-hit northern Sri Lanka, and “threatens the historically strong relationship” shared by the two Tamil communities.

A crippling fuel shortage and consequent power cuts across Sri Lanka are threatening to worsen the island nation’s persisting economic crisis, while sparking protests from citizens.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister on Saturday (March 5) vowed to arrest the masterminds behind a deadly suicide attack claimed by the Islamic State terror group on a crowded Shia mosque during Friday prayers here that killed at least 62 people and injured nearly 200 others. A suicide bomber, belonging to the ISIS-Khorasan, blew himself up inside a mosque in Qissa Khwani bazaar in Peshawar.

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