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Russia working on ‘humanitarian corridor’ for safe passage of Indians, says envoy

This follows New Delhi conveying its concerns to both Russian and Ukrainian authorities about Indians stuck in the conflict zone. According to estimates, about 4,000 Indians—mostly students in medical colleges—are stuck in the eastern and north-eastern parts of Ukraine, close to the Russian border.

Written by Shubhajit Roy |
Updated: March 2, 2022 7:51:27 pm
Ukraine citizens, India Ukraine evacuation, Himachal Pradesh Ukraine evacuation, Indians Ukraine, air India, Bucharest, Indian Express, Indian Express newsAn Air India flight carrying people from Himachal Pradesh and other Indians stranded in the east European country. (Twitter/DrSJaishankar)

A day after an Indian student was killed in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the new Russian envoy to India, Denis Alipov, said that Moscow is working on making a “humanitarian corridor” for safe passage of Indians through the Russian-Ukrainian border. He also said that Russia will investigate the death of the 21-year-old Indian medical student in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

This follows New Delhi conveying its concerns to both Russian and Ukrainian authorities about Indians stuck in the conflict zone. According to estimates, about 4,000 Indians—mostly students in medical colleges—are stuck in the eastern and north-eastern parts of Ukraine, close to the Russian border.

Hours after the Russian envoy’s comments, the India embassy in Ukraine on Wednesday asked all Indians stranded in Kharkiv to leave the conflict zone immediately. The embassy asked Indians to proceed to settlements in Pesochin, Babaye and Bezlyudovka as soon as possible.

Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “They should leave immediately by any means available, including on foot.”

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These three points have been chosen, he said, “based on Russian inputs”, and they are about 15 kms away. While Pesochyn is 11 kms away, Babai is at a distance of 12 kms and Bezlyudovka is 16 kms away.

“For their safety and security, they must leave Kharkiv immediately. Proceed to Pesochin, Babaye and Bezlyudovka as soon as possible,” the embassy said. “Under all circumstances, they must reach these settlements by 1800 hours (Ukrainian time) today,” it said.

Later, they reiterated the advisory with a tone of urgency where they said, “For their own safety and security, they must leave Kharkiv immediately repeat immediately in the light of the deteriorating situation. They should proceed to Pesochin, Babaye and Bezlyudovka as soon as possible for their safety. Those students who cannot find vehicles or buses and are in railway station can proceed on foot. Proceed immediately. Under all circumstances, Indians must reach these settlements by 6 pm Ukrainian Time today.”

Alipov, who arrived in Delhi a couple of days ago, is the ambassador-designate and has not yet presented his credential to the Indian President. But, in his first briefing on Wednesday in the wake of the crisis, the Russian envoy said Russia is launching a “humanitarian corridor” through Russian territory so that Indians have a secure passage and can be evacuated from the conflict zone in Kharkiv, Sumy and nearby areas.

At a media briefing, Russian Ambassador-designate Denis Alipov said Russia is in touch with India on the issue of safety of Indians and that the safe passage will be put into place “as soon as possible”.

“We are working intensely on creating the corridor and secure safe passage for Indians stuck in various conflict zones in Ukraine,” he said. He added that Russia is working on ways and means to provide safe passage to Indians for their secure passage to Russian territory from the conflict zones in Ukraine.

To convey India’s concerns, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had called the ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine on Wednesday to reiterate the demand for urgent safe passage of Indian nationals who are still in Kharkiv and in cities in other conflict zones. Similar action was undertaken by Indian ambassadors in Russia and Ukraine.

“We have reiterated our demand, not just in Delhi but also in Moscow and Kyiv, to diplomatic and military authorities of both countries,” Shringla said.

Sources said the “deteriorating situation in Kharkiv is a matter of grave concern” and “the safety and security of Indian nationals in that city is of utmost priority” for the government.

“We had already taken up with the Russian and Ukrainian embassies the pressing requirement of safe passage for Indian nationals, including students, from Kharkiv and other cities in conflict zones. This demand has been repeatedly made of Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of this conflict on February 24. It has been conveyed to both their ambassadors in New Delhi as well as taken up in their capitals,” a source said.

“From the Indian side, preparations for evacuation have been in place for some time now. An Indian team has been positioned in the Russian city of Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border. However, the conflict situation in and around Kharkiv and nearby cities has been an obstacle,” the source added.

Kharkiv is about 40 km from the Ukraine-Russia border. Therefore, sources said, “it is imperative that Russia and Ukraine respond to our need for safe passage urgently”.

Six days into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, India’s worst fears came true when a 21-year-old Indian medical student in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was killed on Tuesday, marking the country’s first casualty in the war.

Indian officials identified the victim as Naveen S G, a fourth-year MBBS student at Kharkiv National Medical University who hailed from Chalageri village in Karnataka’s Haveri district. They said he was killed during shelling. But a former hostel mate of Naveen in Kharkiv cited other members of the student community there as saying that he was hit in firing by the Russian army outside a grocery store.

The Russian envoy said on Wednesday, “I want to express our sympathy to the family of Naveen Shekarappa Gyanagoudar and to the entire Indian nation over the tragedy…Russia will do everything it possibly can to ensure the safety of Indian citizens in the areas of intense conflict…and a proper investigation of this unfortunate incident.”

India has taken an “unbiased” position based on assessment of the situation in Ukraine and not because it is dependent on Russian arms, he added. “We do coordinate our positions at the UN and inform India about our approach,” he said. Alipov also said, “We do everything possible to keep India up-to-date on what is happening.”

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