India presses for immediate ceasefire in war-hit Sumy in Ukraine to safely evacuate stranded Indians

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Passengers from Sumy to Poland | Poland: AP

New Delhi: India on Saturday "strongly pressed" the Russian and Ukrainian governments through multiple channels for an immediate ceasefire in Sumy to ensure a safe passage for around 700 Indian students stuck there as it keeps focus on their evacuation from the war-hit city in eastern Ukraine.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said India's main focus is now on evacuating the students from Sumy, and that the safe exit of Indians from Kharkiv and Pisochyn is almost complete.
Amid growing concerns over the well being of Indian students in Sumy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called another high-level meeting to discuss the situation in Ukraine and India's evacuation efforts, official sources said.

"We are deeply concerned about Indian students in Sumy, Ukraine. Have strongly pressed Russian and Ukrainian governments through multiple channels for an immediate ceasefire to create a safe corridor for our students," Bagchi said.

"Have advised our students to take safety precautions, stay inside shelters and avoid unnecessary risks," he said on Twitter.
Bagchi also said the main challenge remains the ongoing shelling and violence in Sumy and lack of transportation.

In a message, the Indian envoy to Ukraine Partha Satpathy said no stone will be left unturned for the safe evacuation of Indian students from Sumy city as he hailed the unparalleled strength and fortitude displayed by the young citizens in dealing with the adversities.

Satpathy came out with the message hours after the Indian students in Sumy posted videos saying they have decided to leave for the Russian border and that the Indian government and the embassy in Ukraine will be responsible if anything happens to them.

In the last few days, the students have been sending SOS messages and posting videos on social media, pleading for their urgent evacuation from the conflict zone as the city has been witnessing air strikes.
Following the embassy's assurance, the students did not leave the eastern Ukrainian city that has seen intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops.

"We are afraid. We have waited a lot and we cannot wait anymore. We are risking our life. We are moving towards the border. If anything happens to us, all the responsibility will be on the government and Indian embassy," a student, surrounded by a large number of his peers holding Indian flags, says in one of the videos.

In another video, students are seen filling up buckets with ice as they ran out of drinking water.

At a media briefing, Bagchi said the main focus of India's evacuation mission now is on safely taking out the Indian students from Sumy, which is around 60 km from the Russian border.

"We are exploring multiple options for evacuation of our students. The main challenge remains the ongoing shelling and violence there and lack of transportation. But more than the transportation, I think it is a problem of having a secure and safe way to get them out," he said.

"We are in touch with all concerned. The best option for us would be a ceasefire that allows our students to get out and we have been strongly pressing both the Russian and Ukrainian sides to allow this kind of a local ceasefire," he added. Bagchi said India will continue to push for the ceasefire.

"I would urge all our students in Sumy, we know what you are going through. It is a tough situation. You are managing it with fortitude, please stay safe, avoid unnecessary risks. Safety and security are paramount, We feel your pain and the difficulty you are going through. Just bear with us," he added.

The Indian embassy in Ukraine said all the Indians from Pisochyn have been evacuated and that it will continue to remain in touch with them through their journey.
"Their safety has always been our priority. Be Safe Be Strong," it tweeted. The students in Sumy have been staying in the hostels of the Medical Institute of Sumy State University.

On Saturday, the Russian defence ministry announced a temporary ceasefire around the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha from 09:00-16:00 local time (07:00-14:00 GMT). However, no temporary ceasefire was announced for cities where several hundred Indians have been stranded including in Kharkiv and Sumy.

India has been urging both Russia and Ukraine to safe corridors for evacuation of its nationals from the conflict zones in eastern Ukraine. Earlier in the day, the embassy in Ukraine said it is reaching out to 298 Indian students in Pisochyn and buses are being arranged to evacuate them.

The mission also said it is in touch with all concerned interlocutors including the Red Cross to identify the exit routes to take out the Indians from Sumy. At the briefing, Bagchi said probably one Nepali citizen will be coming on Saturday on-board one of the evacuation flights.

On the overall evacuation mission, he said over 13,300 people have been brought back home in 63 flights. The spokesperson said 13 flights are scheduled for the next 24 hours to bring back Indians under 'Operation Ganga', the evacuation mission launched following the Russian military offensive in Ukraine. Russia launched the attack on Ukraine on February 24.

As more Indian medical students from Ukraine recounted their ordeal before they could make their journey back to India, the Head of Russia's National Defense Control Center Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev claimed that the Ukrainian security forces were holding 5,000 foreigners including around 2,000 from India hostage in Kharkiv and Sumy.

At a meeting with a group of women employees of Russian airlines, President Vladimir Putin also said Ukraine has held more than 6,000 foreign nationals hostage in Kharkiv. Asked about Putin's comments on Thursday that some Indians are being held hostage by Ukrainian forces, Bagchi had on Friday again rejected the claim, saying India does not have any such information or reports.

On Thursday too, Bagchi rejected claims by both Russia and Ukraine that Indian students are being held hostage in Kharkiv.
Students from West Bengal, enrolled in medical colleges in Ukraine, said they ran out of food and water in bunkers, made arrangements on their own to reach the border checkpoints, and walked in sub-zero temperatures as they recounted their struggles to return home.

Nur Hassan, a student from Kaliachak in Malda, recalled how he along with 50 other students from India had to hire a bus on March 1 from his institute in Kyiv to reach the Romanian border after undergoing numerous checks by the Ukrainian army. "For three days, we spent hours in a bunker at our medical college literally going without food and water and hearing sounds of constant bombardment. As time was running out, we requisitioned buses on our own and left for the Ukraine-Romanian border. We were left stranded there for hours by the Ukraine army," he said.

After crossing the border, the Indian embassy, with some help from the Romanian government, facilitated their return journey to New Delhi.


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