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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Caught in Kazakh unrest with no word on return, Indians say get us home

Luiramsing Zimik, who was, in all likelihood, the lone Indian passenger in the aircraft, initially thought Covid-19 protocol in Kazakhstan’s largest city could be causing the delay — an assumption that was shattered when the pilot spoke next.

Written by Sourav Roy Barman | New Delhi |
Updated: January 13, 2022 12:42:44 pm
Asiana Airlines flight from South Korea’s Incheon, flight unrest, Luiramsing Zimik, Indian Express, India news, current affairs, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsSumit Nagpal with his family in Almaty. Express

Soon after the Asiana Airlines flight from South Korea’s Incheon city landed in Almaty at around 8 pm on January 5, the public announcement system crackled, with the captain instructing passengers to remain seated.

Luiramsing Zimik, who was, in all likelihood, the lone Indian passenger in the aircraft, initially thought Covid-19 protocol in Kazakhstan’s largest city could be causing the delay — an assumption that was shattered when the pilot spoke next.

“We were told that we will be evacuated to the nearest fire station. The authorities had lost control of the airport. In the next hour, we found ourselves in the fire station where we were asked to spend the night as clashes had broken out across the city,” Zimik, a resident of Manipur’s Senapati district, told The Indian Express over the phone from Almaty on Wednesday. His connecting flight to India was at 7 am on January 6.

The plane carrying Zimik, who is pursuing a Masters in Divinity at South Korea’s Hoseo University, landed the same evening when the Almaty Airport was briefly taken over by anti-government protesters, as demonstrations against fuel price increases sparked violence across the Central Asian country, once a constituent of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

As the protests grounded flights, foreign nationals visiting Kazakhstan, including Indians, were left stranded.

The unrest began around January 2, following which Kazakh authorities called in a Russian-led military alliance and issued shoot-to-kill orders. Nearly 12,000 protesters have been held in the ensuing crackdown, and over a hundred people have reportedly died.

Delhi-based travel firm owner Sumeet Nagpal, along with his wife and two daughters aged seven and eight, is also among those stuck in Almaty.

“We reached Kazakhstan on December 30 to celebrate the new year. Things went without a hitch till January 5 and we had no inkling that such large-scale violence was about to hit the city. At 4 am on January 6, four hours before our return flight to Delhi, we got a call from the airport asking us to stay put in the hotel. And since then we have been stuck here,” Nagpal said over the phone.

Both Nagpal’s family and Zimik have managed to speak with officials of the Indian mission in Kazakhstan. The officials, however, have not shared any definite timeline with them.

“I am physically sound but mentally drained. I was returning home due to a family emergency. Currently I am left with $100. The hotel charges are $50 per night. The hotel management has told me not to worry about the bill for now, but I will have to pay after all. The Indian mission has said they will see what can be done,” said Zimik, 25.

After spending the night of January 5 at the fire station, Zimik accompanied the Korean passengers with embassy officials of that country to a hotel.

“By the time my turn came, all the rooms were taken. The Korean officials tried their best to help me. Then I started looking for another hotel on my own. The streets were all quiet and there were very few people out. I got a room in the hotel where I am staying now — after walking for hours. Later, I tried reaching out to the Indian mission but could not do so. Finally, that happened through my parents in India,” he said.

Nagpal had some tense moments in the hotel as the local security personnel came knocking on January 7 looking for five alleged criminals. He said: “As I was coming out of a lift, the security men accosted me. The hotel staff rushed and explained that I was a guest. The staff, who have not left the hotel in over a week, and the travel agency through which we came here have been extraordinarily helpful throughout. But I hope the Indian government makes arrangements for our return as soon as possible.”

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