As per Russian Embassy in India’s tweets, “according to latest info, Indian students are taken hostage by Ukrainian security forces to use them as a human shield & in every possible way prevent them from leaving for Russia. Responsibility lies entirely with the Kiev authorities.”
In a statement by the ministry’s official representative, Major General Igor Konashenkov said, “The Armed Forces are ready to take all necessary measures for the safe evacuation of Indian citizens. And send them home from the territory of Russia with their military transport planes or Indian planes, as the Indian side proposed to do.”
The statement came hours after a phone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The leaders discussed the situation in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where many Indian students are stuck amid Russia ramping up its military offensive on Ukraine‘s key locations.
An official statement said the two leaders discussed the safe evacuation of the Indians from the conflict areas in Ukraine and reviewed the situation, especially in Kharkiv.
Meanwhile, India has asked Russia to facilitate the safe passage of Indians from various conflict zones after the killing of an Indian student in shelling in Kharkiv on Tuesday.
At a media briefing, Russian Ambassador-designate Denis Alipov said his country is working “intensely” to create a “humanitarian corridor” for a safe passage to Russian territory of the Indians stuck in Kharkiv, Sumy and other conflict zones in Ukraine.
The Modi-Putin telephonic conversation, the second between them in six days, came amid mounting concerns in India over the safety of the Indian students in Kharkiv that has been witnessing increasing fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops.
“The leaders reviewed the situation in Ukraine, especially in the city of Kharkiv where many Indian students are stuck. They discussed the safe evacuation of the Indian nationals from the conflict areas,” the statement said.
India asked its nationals on Wednesday to leave Kharkiv urgently to three nearby places “even on foot”.
Modi held another high-level meeting on the Ukraine crisis on Wednesday night as the four Union ministers sent to Ukraine’s neighbouring countries coordinated the stepped-up rescue efforts with the deployment of planes by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
In an urgent advisory, the Indian embassy in Ukraine asked the Indians to reach the Ukrainian towns of Pesochyn, 11 km from Kharkiv, Babai (12 km) and Bezlydivka (16 km) by 6 pm local time (9:30 pm IST).
The advisory came amid Russia stepping up its attacks on key Ukrainian cities and a day after an Indian medical student died in shelling in Kharkiv.
Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at a media briefing that the Indian embassy has asked the Indians to leave Kharkiv immediately on the basis of information from the Russian side.
“The students who cannot find vehicles or buses and are in railway station can proceed on foot to Pesochyn, Babai and Bezlydivka,” the advisory, the second of the day, said.
It is learnt that the Russian side has informed India about the possible increase in intensity in fighting in Kharkiv and suggested that all Indians should leave the city.
While the first advisory was put out on Twitter at around 1:40 pm (5 pm IST), the second one was issued at around 2:40 pm (6 pm IST).
Bagchi said India is also exploring the option of reaching the eastern parts of Ukraine to help in the evacuation of its citizens, but added that it is not easy as the route is not open at all times.
Separately, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar discussed the “deteriorating” situation in Ukraine with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Estonian counterpart Eva-Maria Liimets.
Alipov said Russia is working “intensely” to create a “humanitarian corridor” for a safe passage to Russian territory of the Indians stuck in the conflict zones in Ukraine.
“We have received an Indian request for the emergency evacuation of all those stuck there (Ukraine) to the Russian territory and we are now actively working on the ways and means to launch an operation to provide the humanitarian corridors so that people have the secure passage to safety to the Russian territory,” he said.
Alipov said Russia is in touch with Indian authorities on the issue of Indians stuck in Kharkiv, Sumy and in the areas northeast of Ukraine.
He hoped that the humanitarian corridors will be put in place “as soon as possible”.
As India shored up efforts to evacuate its citizens, four C-17 Globemaster aircraft of the IAF with approximately 800 evacuees from Ukraine are slated to land at the Hindon airbase on Thursday, sources said.
On Wednesday morning, a C-17 aircraft left for Romania carrying humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Bagchi said the cities in eastern Ukraine remain areas of concern and that some Indian students were able to board trains out of Kharkiv on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
He said there has been a sharp increase in the number of Indians who have left Ukraine in the recent past.
“We now estimate that nearly 17,000 Indian nationals have left Ukraine’s borders since our advisories were issued. This of course includes some Indians who had not registered with the embassy earlier,” he added.
Earlier, the MEA had said 20,000 Indians were in Ukraine when India had issued the first advisory in mid-February.
Bagchi said the number of flights under “Operation Ganga” has increased sharply and that six flights landed in India in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 15.
He said the total number of Indians who have returned on board these flights is 3,352. Of them, 1,796 were evacuated through Romania, 430 through Poland and 1,126 through Hungary.
Modi has held a series of meetings since Sunday to spearhead India’s efforts to safely bring back its nationals, asserting that this is his government’s top priority.
Meanwhile, an Indian national — Chandan Jindal — died in Ukraine due to natural causes. He was in a hospital for the last few days after suffering an ischemic stroke.
(With inputs from agencies)