India calls for \'local truce\', to run 16 evacuation flights today

Indian student shot at while fleeing safe in Kyiv hospital

New Delhi: India on Friday appealed to both Russia and Ukraine to put in place a “local ceasefire” in war-torn eastern Ukraine so that hundreds of Indian students stuck in the cities of Kharkhiv and Sumy could be evacuated to safety, which is a “primary focus”, even as New Delhi announced that an injured Indian student, Harjot Singh, who is reported to have been shot at multiple times while trying to flee Ukraine’s capital Kyiv is “safe and in hospital” in Kyiv. The Indian government will share the medical costs of the injured student’s treatment, New Delhi added.

While the government also announced that over 20,000 Indian nationals have left Ukraine and over 10,000 Indian nationals, including students, have been brought back to India in 48 evacuation flights, the challenges remain, with estimates that about 2,000-3,000 Indian nationals, mostly students, still remaining in war-torn Ukraine. Of these, about 300 Indian students are stuck in Kharkhiv, while over 700 are stuck in Sumy due to the raging conflict. About 800-900 Indian students who managed to get to the relative safety of Pisochyn, near Kharkhiv, are being transported to safety to either Lviv in western Ukraine or to the neighbouring nation of Moldova.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also chaired a high-level meet yet again in New Delhi on the Ukraine crisis while saying at an election rally at Mirzapur in UP that however deep a crisis is, India’s attempts to tackle it are “even bigger”.

As Indian students, many of them girls stuck in Sumy, sent desperate pleas for help on the social media, New Delhi said its “primary focus” was to ensure the safety and security of these students and evacuate them. India said it was proving “difficult” to evacuate the stuck Indian students due to the raging conflict as there would be considerable risk to the students if any evacuation is attempted when a battle is raging there. Asked about a reported Russian offer to arrange over 100 buses to transport Indian students to safety on the Russian side of the border across eastern Ukraine, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said those buses were about 50-60 km away from where the students were and that there was no way the Indian students could be taken to those buses unless there was a “local ceasefire” agreed to by both the warring sides.

He said in case of a ceasefire, the Indian students in Kharkhiv and Sumy can even be transported to safety in western Ukraine so that they are evacuated back to India from the territory of one of Ukraine’s western neighbours. But the possibility of using IL-76 IAF aircraft to transport these students back to India from Russian territory in case they can be evacuated safely there also remains on the table.

In the next 24 hours, 16 more evacuation flights, including four by the IAF’s modern C-17 transporters, will also be undertaken to Ukraine’s western neighbours like Romania, Slovakia and Poland. India is also rushing tonnes of humanitarian assistance and relief materials to the Ukrainian people on onward evacuation flights from India to Ukraine’s western neighbours so that these could be sent to Ukrainian territory.

Asked about the injured Indian student, Harjot Singh, the spokesperson said the Indian authorities were trying to ascertain the exact details of his medical status, but added he was safe and in hospital. Mr Bagchi said Indian diplomats were in touch with the injured Indian student and that Indian embassy officials are examining whether it would be possible for some Indian diplomats to enter Kyiv and meet him although “it is not easy to re-enter the city (Kyiv)” due to the conflict.

PTI reported from Mirzapur in UP that Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted on Friday that no matter how deep a crisis, India’s response is “even bigger”, adding that thousands of students have been brought back from Ukraine safely under the ongoing Operation Ganga, and those still there are being evacuated. “The entire world now is passing through a ‘nazuk daur’ (delicate period) of this century. Many countries are today affected by the pandemic, unrest and uncertainty. But you must have seen however deep the crisis, India’s attempts (to address them) are even bigger and firm,” Mr Modi was quoted as saying. “We have brought back thousands of students from Ukraine under Operation Ganga safely,” he added, saying special flights were being operated for those still stuck there. Any campaign associated with Mother Ganga is bound to succeed, the PM said, and added: “During the coronavirus period, India brought every single citizen stuck abroad by running Operation Vande Bharat. Operation Devi Shakti was carried out in Afghanistan. Now, India is engaged in saving every citizen and student in Ukraine.”

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