Russia-Ukraine crisis: MEA redoubles evacuation efforts

Russia-Ukraine crisis: MEA redoubles evacuation efforts

Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened another meeting on evacuation efforts

The war in Ukraine claimed its first Indian casualty as a 21 year old student belonging to Karnataka was killed on Tuesday in an attack by Russian forces in Ukraine’s Kharkiv city.

The victim, identified as Naveen S. Gyanagoudar was killed while standing outside a grocery as he waited to buy food. It is unclear whether Mr. Naveen was killed by Russian shelling on a government building nearby or in the gunfire that followed by Russian soldiers, said officials. Briefing the media, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said that his body has now been taken to the Kharkiv National Medical University, where Mr. Naveen was a student, and will be brought back as soon as possible along with about 4,000 students who are still trapped in Kharkiv and other places under Russian fire.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened another meeting on evacuation efforts, seeking to redouble efforts and the speed with which students are brought back, beginning the high level meeting with a note of “deep regret” over the killing. However, the government was non committal over whether the death of the student would change India’s stance at the United Nations, which is discussing a number of resolutions on the conflict in Ukraine.

Summoning the envoys of Russia and Ukraine to protest the killing, Mr. Shringla pressed for the safe passage of all Indian nationals, about 40% of whom still remain in conflict areas. Meanwhile Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also spoke to more leaders of neighbouring countries including the leaders of Poland, Slovakia and Romania, to request facilitation of thousands of Indians now pouring over the border from Ukraine.

Mr. Shringla said that the first consignment of humanitarian assistance for Ukraine including medical supplies and equipment, tents and blankets has been sent to Warsaw, and that along with a number of commercial flights bringing back students, the Indian Air Force will fly a C-17 aircraft to Bucharest early Wednesday morning. The 10th evacuation flight filled with about 250 passengers left Bucharest for Delhi on Tuesday, as four ministers flew to Warsaw, Bucharest, Budapest and Moldova to help coordinate more flights.

Government officials said that they are also exploring the possibility of evacuating students trapped in Eastern Ukraine to the border with Russia, and an Indian team from the Embassy in Moscow has been positioned in the Russian border city of Belgorod. However, those who are trapped in cities under attack like Kyiv and Kharkiv are finding it difficult to move out.

With the Russian military stepping up its missile strikes on installations across Ukraine, and focusing on Kyiv, where eyewitness reports said a massive Russian military convoy has reached the capital city’s outskirts, the Indian Embassy in Kyiv put out an advisory with a note of alarm.

“All Indian nationals are advised to leave Kyiv urgently today, preferably by available trains or through any other means available,” the advisory read. According to Mr. Shringla, by the end of the day, the government believes all Indian citizens trying to leave Kyiv had managed to exit the city and were on their way to the western borders for extraction.

The Indian Embassy in Kyiv has also sent personnel to set up a base closer to the border in the city of Lviv, so as to be better positioned to help Indians to leave, officials said. However the MEA declined to confirm if it has closed down its embassy in Kyiv, as several other countries have. According to Mr. Shringla, about 40% of the roughly 20,000 Indian citizens who were living in Ukraine are still in the country, half of which are still in conflict areas including Kharkiv, Kyiv and Sumy, while the other half have moved to safer areas near the western borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova.

On Tuesday PM Modi also received calls from French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel, who expressed their condolences over the killing of the Indian student. Mr. Michel, who promised all help for Indian students, also called for the world to “unite in defence of international law”. European countries have asked India to join resolutions against Russia at the UN Security Council, General Assembly and Human Rights Council.

When asked if Tuesday’s killing of an Indian student would change the Indian position at the United Nations, where India has consistently abstained from any resolution that overtly criticises, condemns or deplores Russia’s actions, Mr. Shringla said that each upcoming resolution would be considered “carefully”, in their “entirety” and in India’s “best interests”.

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