India calls in Russian, Ukranian envoys after student killed in Kharkiv shelling

Updated on Mar 01, 2022 03:53 PM IST

Earlier today, the Indian embassy in Kyiv advised all Indians in the Ukrainian capital to leave the city “urgently” by train or any other means

The damaged headquarters of the Kharkiv administration due to shelling by Russian military on Tuesday. (AFP Photo)
The damaged headquarters of the Kharkiv administration due to shelling by Russian military on Tuesday. (AFP Photo)

NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday confirmed the death of an Indian student in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which has been hit by intense shelling, and demanded that Russia and Ukraine provide safe passage to its nationals stranded in conflict zones.

“With profound sorrow, we confirm that an Indian student lost his life in shelling in Kharkiv this morning. The ministry is in touch with his family. We convey our deepest condolences to the family,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a tweet.

The Indian side reiterated its demand to Russia and Ukraine for safety and safe passage for Indian nationals caught up in conflict zones, mostly in eastern and southern Ukraine. The demand was first made by foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla during separate meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian envoys on Sunday.

“Foreign Secretary is calling in Ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine to reiterate our demand for urgent safe passage for Indian nationals who are still in Kharkiv and cities in other conflict zones,” Bagchi said in a second tweet.

“Similar action is also being undertaken by our Ambassadors in Russia and Ukraine,” he added.

Before the official confirmation, several Indian students in Kharkiv had posted on social media that a student, believed to be from Karnataka, died when he went to buy food. Several videos posted on social media showed the shelling of different locations in Kharkiv, including an area near Kharkiv National Medical University (KNMU), which has numerous Indian students.

There are varying estimates of the total number of Indian students in Kharkiv, ranging from 2,000 to 4,000. Indian and other foreigners have been unable to leave most cities in eastern Ukraine, including Kharkiv and Sumy, since the country’s airspace was closed on February 24. Rail and public transport services have also been disrupted in the eastern region.

People familiar with developments described the deteriorating situation in Kharkiv as a matter of grave concern. “We had already taken up with the Russian and Ukrainian embassies the pressing requirement of safe passage for Indian nationals, including students, from Kharkiv and other cities in conflict zones,” one of the people said.

“This demand has been repeatedly made of Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict on February 24. It has been conveyed to their ambassadors in New Delhi and taken up in the Russian and capitals,” the person added.

Though an Indian team has been positioned in the Russian city of Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border, to facilitate evacuations from Kharkiv and nearby cities, the conflict in that region has been an obstacle, the people said.

“Therefore, it is imperative that Russia and Ukraine respond to our need for safe passage urgently,” the person said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Indian embassy in Kyiv advised all Indians in the Ukrainian capital to leave the city “urgently” by train or any other means against the backdrop of reports of a 64-km-long Russian military convoy moving towards the region.

“All Indian nationals including students are advised to leave Kyiv urgently today. Preferably by available trains or through any other means available,” the embassy said in the brief advisory posted on Twitter.

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies of the Russian military convoy moving in on the Ukrainian capital showed that it stretched for almost 64 kms. The imagery from Monday showed that the convoy appears to include hundreds of armoured vehicles, tanks, towed artillery and logistics vehicles.

Shortly before the Indian embassy issued the alert, The Kyiv Independent, a Ukrainian news outlet, reported that air raid sirens had gone off in Kyiv, Kharkiv and several other cities.

In a message posted on Twitter late on Monday, the Indian embassy said 400 Indian students housed near the mission since February 24 had “successfully left Kyiv by train through Mission’s efforts”. The embassy further said it had ensured the movement of more than 1,000 Indian students from Kyiv towards western Ukraine on Monday.

“Advised the remaining few students in Kyiv to leave once curfew is lifted,” the tweet added.

The Indian embassy had said in another advisory on Monday that students travelling from Kyiv to the western region on special evacuation trains should “remain calm, peaceful and united”, and that they should be “patient, composed and especially not to exhibit aggressive behaviour” as large crowds can be expected at railway stations.

“We expect delays in trains’ schedule, even cancellation at times and long queues. Indian students are requested to carry their passport, sufficient cash, ready to eat meals, easy accessible winter clothing and only essential items, to ensure easy mobility,” the advisory said.

As of Monday, an estimated 12,000 Indians were still in Ukraine and some 2,000 have been brought out of the war-torn country through the evacuation progamme named Operation Ganga.

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