The Indian Embassy in Ukraine on Wednesday tweeted an “urgent advisory to all Indian nationals in Kharkiv”, telling them to leave “as soon as possible” and get to Pesochin, Babaye, or Bezlyudovka.
“For their own safety and security they must leave Kharkiv immediately repeat immediately… Under all circumstances they must reach these settlements by 1800 hrs (Ukrainian time) today,” the advisory said in all-caps. It was posted at 5.11 pm IST, or about 1.40 pm in Kharkiv.
CITIES LESS SAFE: Since cities are vital strategic targets, combatants will try and capture them. This is what we are seeing in Kharkiv, Kiev, etc.
The countryside, even the suburbs, are usually safer. Large military formations move along highways and roads.
WHAT TO CARRY: The tendency is to take along as much as you can. That should be avoided. If you load yourself up with too much stuff, you become dependent on various forms of transportation. Be prepared to walk, and take only as much as you can carry on your back. Clothing is the most essential thing. A spare pair of shoes, good socks, warm clothing, food like chocolate, water, and money.
STAY TOGETHER: If government agencies organise some kind of evacuation, it is better to follow that rather than breaking out on your own. They will be more organised, will tell you where to go, will probably have some places with shelter and food. [The Russians said on Wednesday that they were working on a “humanitarian corridor” for the safe passage of Indians through the Ukrainian-Russian border.]
If that does not happen, always stay in a group. Do not move out on your own. You will need each other. Somebody could fall sick, somebody could be weak, and may need help.
PHONES BY TURN: You must have some means of communication. If you are in a group of 10-15, keep only one or two mobile phones on. Everybody should not have their phones on at the same time, and risk running out of charge all at the same time. [The three places where Indians have been advised to reach are between 11 km and 16 km from Kharkiv, and may take 2-4 hours to walk to. The temperature in the area is around 0-2°C.]
IF IN CROSSFIRE: If that happens, it is better to identify yourself as a civilian. Generally, civilians are not deliberately targeted in conflicts like this. Maybe just mention you are a civilian and walk with raised hands instead of trying to run or hide, and risking getting shot.
IF YOU SEE SOLDIERS: It is not advisable to approach them. They will be focused on their mission, and by going there, you will be exposing yourself, as the military will be a target for their enemies.
IF YOU CAN’T MOVE: As long as the targets are military installations, you are comparatively safe. Make an assessment of what the safest place is at your current location. Military installations, government buildings, communication centres will be attacked. Places in the vicinity of hospitals and schools, which are usually not targeted, will be safer.
However, if civilian areas start getting targeted, it is better to leave as soon as possible. [ A large number of Indians are caught in the combat zone. For those in Kharkiv, the government has issued an advisory. For the rest, the question of whether to stay put or leave, remains.]
Avoid panic at all times. Because when you panic you tend to take decisions which are not well thought-out. Avoid rumour-mongering, think with a cool head. You can take better and more informed decisions that way.
(Lt General Hooda, who retired as the Northern Army Commander in 2016, has served in a range of combat areas, including at the United Nations Missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea. He spoke to Krishn Kaushik.)