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Indian students held hostage in Kharkiv, says Putin

Students from Ukraine arriving at the Hindon Airbase in Ghaziabad early on March 3, 2022.

Students from Ukraine arriving at the Hindon Airbase in Ghaziabad early on March 3, 2022. | Photo Credit: R. V. MOORTHY

A large number of Indian students “continue” to remain “hostage” in a train station in Kharkiv, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday evening. The Russian leader’s comments came hours after India said that its plans to evacuate nationals from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv were disrupted as fighting in the city had resumed after a brief pause during Wednesday.

“They are taking hostage foreign citizens, including thousands of students those who went to college in Ukraine. For more than one day at a train station in Kharkiv 3,179 Indian citizens were held prisoner. They are still there... most of them are still there including 576 people in Sumy. Neo Nazis opened fire at Chinese citizens who wanted to leave Kharkiv, two of them were wounded,” said Mr. Putin during a speech at the Security Council of Russia. He said “hundreds” of foreign citizens were being prevented by the Ukrainian forces from leaving Kharkiv and added, “Basically, they are taking prisoners.”

Mr. Putin held a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday evening during which both discussed the situation in Kharkiv where Russia has been carrying out a military campaign. Kharkiv which had a large number of Indian, Chinese and African students has been the focus of international concern as fighting raged amidst reports that Russia was in an advantageous position. Late on Thursday evening, an official from Kyiv informed that Ukraine and Russia have agreed to create a humanitarian corridor to let the foreign nationals exit. 

“The second round of talks is over. Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have the results it needs yet. There are decisions only on the organisation of humanitarian corridors,” Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said in a social media post following the second round of discussions held in Belarus. Foreign students can be evacuated if this agreement is implemented on the ground. 

An official of the Ministry of External Affairs said a number of Indian students previously stranded in the city managed to reach nearby points of evacuation after an “urgent advisory” from the Embassy of India but the rest of the students are yet to be moved. India promised to step up the operation to evacuate its citizens from the northeast region of Ukraine that is being bombed by the Russian military forces.

The government on Thursday said its plans to evacuate nationals from the conflict-hit Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was disrupted as fighting in the city resumed after a brief pause during Wednesday. An official of the Ministry of External Affairs said a large number of Indian students previously stranded in the city managed to reach nearby points of evacuation after an "urgent advisory" from the Embassy of India but the rest of the students are yet to be moved.

New Delhi promised to step up the operation to evacuate its citizens from the northeast region of Ukraine that is under attack and bombardment by the Russian military forces.

"Yesterday in Kharkiv, we issued an advisory for all Indians to leave the city by 6 p.m. local time. Pursuant to this a large number of students left and are currently in the nearby city of Pisochyn. We estimate this number to be around 1,000. We are currently looking at transportation options to move them from there to western or southern Ukraine depending on whatever transportation options work out." said Arindam Bagchi official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs.

It is understood that the Indians were asked to leave during an undeclared pause in the live conflict situation in and around Kharkiv.

Mr Bagchi added that fighting has resumed in Kharkiv which has made it impossible once again to extract the Indians stranded in various medical colleges of the city and nearby areas.

Students in Sumy told The Hindu that education contractors, who are also active in arranging logistics for the stranded nationals, have reached out, asking them to be ready to be transported to Russian towns near Kursk. India continued to highlight the condition of its stranded citizens in Ukraine even as the Ministry of External Affairs announced that at least 18,000 Indian nationals were evacuated till Thursday by various means with the help of Ukraine's neighbours — Romania, Poland, Moldova, Hungary and the Slovak Republic.

On Thursday, 2,185 Indian nationals returned in 10 special civilian flights from Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. The government said in a press statement that more than 7,400 persons were expected to be brought back on Friday and Saturday. As part of evacuation planning the IAF has also kept IL-76 transport aircraft on standby for bringing back Indian nationals from Russia, according to official sources.

India emphasised the plight of its nationals in Ukraine who are caught in the crossfire between the Russian military campaign and Ukraine's counter-offensive. Addressing the Urgent Debate regarding the situation of human rights in Ukraine at the 49th Human Rights Council Session, the Indian side highlighted the difficulties faced by its nationals in the conflict zones of Ukraine and urged for an "immediate cessation of violence". The Indian delegation informed the international community that it has begun to supply humanitarian items to Ukraine and will provide more such assistance in the coming days.

Since the beginning of the conflict on February 24, India has evacuated around 18,000 citizens till Thursday as the Ministry of External Affairs said 15 more flights were operated between Wednesday and Thursday under Operation Ganga. This takes the total number of flights to 30 till Thursday evening. India's humanitarian assistance has reached Poland and Romania and is expected to be transported to Ukraine through international relief agencies.


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Printable version | Mar 4, 2022 9:50:49 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/renewed-hostility-stalling-rescue-of-indians-from-kharkiv-govt/article65188107.ece