Centre refutes Putin’s claim that Indian students held hostage in Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday claimed that Indian students in Kharkiv were “taken hostage by the Ukrainian security forces” for being used as “a human shield”.
NEW DELHI: India on Thursday rejected contentions by both Russia and Ukraine that Indian nationals are being held hostage at Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and said it has asked Ukrainian authorities to arrange special trains to take its citizens out of the besieged city.
India’s clarification came hours after Russia and Ukraine traded charges about Indian nationals being held hostage and used as human shields in Kharkiv, which has witnessed intense Russian bombardment over the past two days. India has stepped up efforts to get its citizens out of Kharkiv following the death of an Indian student in the city on Tuesday.
“We have not received any reports of any hostage situation regarding any student,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.
“We have requested support of the Ukrainian authorities in arranging special trains for taking out students from Kharkiv and neighbouring areas to the western part of the country,” he added.
Later in the day, Bagchi reiterated at a media briefing that the Indian side has no information about a hostage situation. He said foreign secretary Harsh Shringla asked the Ukrainian deputy foreign minister during a conversation late on Wednesday to provide trains or make other arrangements to pull out Indians from Kharkiv. “We are also in contact with Russia,” he said.
The Indian spokesperson’s remarks were a contradiction of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertion, during a phone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi late on Wednesday, that Indian students in Kharkiv had been “taken hostage by the Ukrainian security forces” and were being used as “a human shield”.
Late on Thursday evening, in televised remarks, Putin reiterated the claim, saying over 3,500 students were held in two cities briefly.
Thousands of Indian nationals, mostly students, are still believed to be in Kharkiv, Sumy and other cities in eastern Ukraine. India had on Wednesday urged all Indians to leave Kharkiv by any means, including on foot, within five hours and move towards three relatively safer zones located within 15 km of the city.
Bagchi said the Indian embassy in Ukraine is in “continuous touch” with Indian nationals across the country and that “many students” left Kharkiv on Wednesday with the cooperation of Ukrainian authorities.
India is also coordinating effectively with Ukraine’s neighbours, including Russia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, and a large number of Indian nationals were evacuated from Ukraine in the last few days, he said.
“We appreciate the help extended by the Ukrainian authorities to make this possible. We thank Ukraine’s western neighbours in receiving Indian nationals and for accommodating them while they waited for flights to take them back home,” Bagchi said.
On Wednesday, Putin had told Modi during their phone conversation that necessary instructions had been given and the Russian military was doing everything possible for the “safe removal of Indian citizens from the war zone”.
“The Russian side...is trying to organise an urgent evacuation of a group of Indian students from Kharkiv through the humanitarian corridor along the shortest route to Russia,” Putin was quoted as saying in a readout from the Kremlin.
Putin said Indian students had been “taken hostage by the Ukrainian security forces, who use them as a human shield and in every possible way prevent them from leaving for Russian territory”. He added the responsibility lay entirely with Ukrainian authorities.
Soon after, Ukraine’s foreign ministry, in a statement, rejected the Russian assertions and said students from India, Pakistan, China and other countries couldn’t leave Kharkiv and Sumy because of “indiscriminate shelling and barbaric missile strikes by the Russian Armed Forces”.
“We urgently call on the governments of India, Pakistan, China and other countries whose students have become hostages of the Russian armed aggression in Kharkiv and Sumy, to demand from Moscow that it allows the opening of a humanitarian corridor to the Ukrainian side,” the ministry said.