Updated: March 3, 2022 10:44:53 am
The Indian government on Thursday countered Russia’s claims that Indian students are being held hostage in Ukraine, saying that they were in constant touch with all nationals and haven’t received any such report yet.
“We have not received reports of any hostage situation regarding any student. We have requested support from the Ukrainian authorities in arranging special trains for taking out students from Kharkiv and neighbouring areas to the western part of the country,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.
This comes a day after Kremlin claimed that Indian students in Kharkiv had been “taken hostage” by Ukrainian security forces who were using them as “a human shield” to “prevent them from leaving for Russian territory”.
Responding to media queries, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, said, “Our Embassy in Ukraine is in continuous touch with Indian nationals in Ukraine. We note that with the cooperation of the Ukrainian authorities, many students have left Kharkiv yesterday. We have not received any reports of any hostage situation regarding any student.”
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He added, “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.”
“We have been coordinating effectively with the countries in the region including Russia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova. A large number of Indian nationals have been evacuated from Ukraine in the last few days. 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,” the MEA spokesperson further informed.
Hours after its envoy to New Delhi said the Russians were working on a “humanitarian corridor” for the safe passage of stranded Indians via the Russia-Ukraine border, the Kremlin claimed that Indian students in Kharkiv had been “taken hostage” by Ukrainian security forces.
This was announced by the Russians in their readout of the phone conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin. However, there was no mention of this in the Indian statement. The Prime Minister’s Office said, “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.”
According to the Kremlin statement, “Putin stressed that all the necessary instructions had been given and that the Russian military was doing everything possible to ensure the safe removal of Indian citizens from the war zone and their return to their homeland”.
“The Russian side, in particular, is trying to organise an urgent evacuation of a group of Indian students from Kharkov (the Russian name of Kharkiv) through the humanitarian corridor along the shortest route to Russia,” it said.
“At the same time, according to the latest information, these students are actually 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. Responsibility in this case lies entirely with the Kiev authorities,” it added.
At a briefing in Moscow, the Russian defence ministry too said “according to our information, Ukrainian authorities forcibly keep a large group of Indian students in Kharkiv who wish to leave Ukrainian territory and go to Belgorod.”
“In fact, they are being held as hostages and offered to leave the territory of Ukraine via Ukrainian-Polish border. They offered to go through the territory where active hostilities are taking place,” it said.
“Russian armed forces are ready to take all necessary measures for the safe evacuation of the Indian citizens. And send them home from the Russian territory with its own military transport planes or Indian planes, as the Indian side proposed to do,” the ministry said.
In New Delhi, Indian officials viewed this as a difficult situation in a conflict zone where citizens have been hunkering down in bunkers and underground shelters, and movement is prevented due to a curfew-like situation on the streets.
Russia’s claim that Indians are held hostage by Ukraine could be a bid to distance itself from the consequences of the war. This comes when it has faced censure at UNGA.
It is estimated that around 4,000 Indians, mostly students in medical colleges, are stuck in the eastern and north-eastern parts of Ukraine, close to the Russian border. The Indian embassy in Ukraine had asked all Indians stranded in Kharkiv to leave the conflict zone immediately “by any means available, including on foot.”
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