Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin today and discussed the situation in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where over a thousand Indian students are stranded. Kharkiv is virtually under Russian control and the girl students have already been sent on their way to Ukraine’s western border by train — a 20-hour journey — with the help of Russians, government sources told NDTV. Efforts are on to evacuate the boys also, sources said shortly before the 6 pm deadline was about to expire.
A statement from the foreign ministry said PM Modi and Mr Putin “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,” the statement added.
India has also abstained from voting against Russia at the United Nations General Assembly, where a resolution demanding that Russia stop military operations in Ukraine was passed with 141 votes in favour. There were 35 abstentions and five votes against it.
In a statement, India’s ambassador to UN TS Tirumurti said India has decided to abstain in view of the “totality of the evolving situation”.
“We demand safe and uninterrupted passage for all Indian nationals, including our students, who are still stranded in Ukraine, particularly from Kharkiv and other cities in the conflict zones… this remains our foremost priority,” the statement added.
Earlier today, amid tension back home over the evacuation, a senior government official told NDTV that a “lot of background negotiations with Russians have been going on. Now they, in fact, are helping us in evacuation”.
The Russians, he said, “have avoided the areas we had asked them not to target… We are tying up with the Russians for safe passage of our students”.
Over a thousand students had been stranded at the Kharkiv station amid heavy shelling of the city since morning. They said they were not being allowed to board the trains and those who managed, were forced to get off.
Some said they were beaten and kicked and sent urgent appeals for help to the authorities.
Kharkiv — Ukraine’s second largest city close to the Russian border in the east — has been under heavy shelling since yesterday, in which an Indian student has died.
News agency AFP reported rocket strikes on buildings housing offices of security, police and universities.
Amid apprehension of Russian action intensifying further, India asked all its nationals to this evening vacate the city by 6 pm local time (9.30 pm IST), and go to Pisochyn, Babai or Bezlyudivka — on foot if need be.
The foreign ministry said the advisory was based on inputs from Russians, who had landed paratroopers in Kharkiv earlier today, triggering clashes on streets. “There is an ongoing fight between the invaders and the Ukrainians,” the Ukrainian army had said.
Russia had also helped India during evacuation from Kabul in 2021 when the US forces pulled out of Afghanistan after their longtime occupation. Government officials had said that the Russians managed to convince the Taliban to let the Indian mission staff go to the airport.