India positions teams to evacuate 700 students, awaits nod from Ukraine, Russia

Updated on Mar 07, 2022 11:54 PM IST

PM Narendra Modi on Monday spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and sought their support in the quick evacuation of Indian students stuck in Ukraine’s embattled Sumy city.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Monday said Russian shelling is preventing the evacuation of civilians from Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy, Kharkiv, Volnovakha and Mykolayiv,. (AP)
Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Monday said Russian shelling is preventing the evacuation of civilians from Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy, Kharkiv, Volnovakha and Mykolayiv,. (AP)

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities are awaiting security clearances to begin evacuation of about 700 citizens from the eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy, where the largest concentration of Indian nationals have been waiting for an exit route to safety amid heavy shelling and intense fighting.

Small teams of Indian officials have fanned out in the eastern part of Ukraine to facilitate the evacuation of the Indians in Sumy, mostly students who are sheltering in campuses and bunkers. Buses and vehicles have been arranged to ferry the Indians to safer areas though everything will depend on security clearances from the Russian and Ukrainian sides, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The Indian embassy in Kyiv tweeted late on Sunday that a team of officials has been stationed in Poltava city to coordinate the safe passage of Indians stranded in Sumy to the western borders of Ukraine. The time and date for the evacuation would be conveyed to the students, who were “advised to be ready to leave on short notice”.

The people cited above said no movement could be made without the requisite security clearances from both Russia and Ukraine. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too raised the safe evacuation of the Indians in Sumy during phone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday. He sought the support of both leaders for the evacuation efforts.

The need for security clearances was highlighted against the backdrop of several reports of ceasefire violations in areas where humanitarian corridors have been established for the evacuation of civilians. Footage emerged on Monday of a Russian missile strike on a civilian evacuation point outside Kyiv that reportedly killing eight people, including two children.

The Ukrainian side has also been upset that all but one of the humanitarian corridors announced by Moscow lead only to Russia or Belarus. On Monday, the Russian military announced humanitarian corridors for Sumy, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol. Despite the announcements, the evacuation of some 200,000 people from the port city of Mariupol has had to be halted because of ceasefire violations.

A statement issued by the Russian embassy late on Monday night quoted Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev of Russia’s National Centre for State Defence Control as saying that the Ukrainian side didn’t fulfil any conditions for creating the humanitarian corridors.

The statement said the Russian side suggested the creation of two corridors from Sumy, one leading to Poltava and another to the Russian city of Belgorod. However, Mizintsev said the Ukrainian side didn’t agree to opening of corridors running towards Russia. Mizintsev also accused Sumy mayor Alexander Lysenko of saying that “not a single civilian will go to Russia, and those who try to do this will be shot”.

The external affairs ministry said on Monday that more than 17,100 Indians had been brought back on 83 evacuation flights operated from Ukraine’s neighbouring countries. A total of 1,250 nationals returned to New Delhi and Mumbai on seven flights operated on Sunday and Monday.

Three more evacuation flights were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, the ministry said.

Harjot Singh, a student from New Delhi who sustained bullet injuries in an attack in Kyiv last month, was driven a distance of 700 km from the Ukrainian capital to Budomierz town in Poland before being flown home in an Indian Air Force evacuation flight on Monday. The Indian embassy in Kyiv tweeted photos of the Ukrainian driver from the mission who drove Singh to the border amid “war zone constraints of bombing [and] shelling” and other hurdles such as a fuel shortage, road blocks, detours and traffic jams.

A total of nearly 22,000 Indians have now exited Ukraine since January, including those who left well before the Russian invasion began on February 24. The control room at the external affairs ministry and the control centres at Indian embassies in the countries neighbouring Ukraine continue to be operational and have so far attended to 12,582 calls and 9,131 emails.

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