This Article is authored by Advocate Anil Malhotra. On Saturday, Indian students stranded in Sumy in north-eastern Ukraine had released a video, announcing their decision to risk the long and perilous walk to the Russian border, prompting a response from the MEA.
The collapse of the ceasefire to facilitate the evacuation of civilians from the strategic port of Mariupol in the southeast and the eastern town of Volnovakha spells more bad news for Indian students stuck in various cities of Ukraine.
On Saturday, Indian students stranded in Sumy in north-eastern Ukraine had released a video, announcing their decision to risk the long and perilous walk to the Russian border, prompting a response from the MEA. Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, in a Twitter post, 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. Have advised our students to take safety precautions, stay inside shelters and avoid unnecessary risks. Ministry and our Embassies are in regular touch with the students.”
Meanwhile, Russia seems all set to widen its attack as it advances on Kyiv to topple the Ukraine Government. Thousands of Indians stranded in Ukraine in bunkers and underground metro stations are at grave risk of dying of freezing cold, if not gunfire. The first Indian student casualty, a shocking death, had stepped out of a bunker to purchase food and exchange currency. Stranded at about 1400 kilometres from the borders of European countries, their chances of evacuation on their own are bleak. Appeals on social media are heart-wrenching.
Accounts indicate that Russians have started targeting civilian buildings. Reportedly, the Indian Embassy office has now been set up in Lviv. Hundreds of Indian students are also stuck in the open on the Romanian border. Those reaching train stations to head for the Polish border from Lviv, faced opposition from jampacked Ukrainian refugees forcing them out. Deputing Indian Ministers at Poland, Romania and Hungary, 1600 kilometres away may offer little solace to those in underground isolation without food, money or transportation.
Russia has asked all civilians to abandon Kyiv as it would be hit by high precision weapons. A thermobaric rocket launcher with 24 chambers fires volleys of vacuum bombs spraying a mist of fuel, which on detonation creates fireballs sucking oxygen from the hot air, causing total destruction. Heavens, beware.
The air space for civilian aircraft in Ukraine is closed following the Russian attack. Access to borders by train or taxis is the only route. But this is fraught with danger. Earlier videos show that those who reached the Romanian border were not allowed to pass by Ukrainian troops. Videos show jostling Indian students being hit with guns and boots. Those lucky to return talk of a “living hell”. Commissioning Indian Airforce transport planes may help only those who reach Budapest, Bucharest or Warsaw. Indian nationals stuck in Ukrainian towns continue to be in grave danger.
India’s neutrality at the UNSC, must now come into play. India Maur appeal to both Russia and Ukraine to bail out Indians and stop bombing till the civilians are evacuated. This ceasefire coupled with a safe corridor assured by Russians can save many young Indian lives.
As of now, risky airstrikes, unpredictable troop movements, lack of food, water and resources, make travel to Poland, Hungary and Romania, an impossibility. The easiest exit from Ukraine is through Belgorod International Airport, Russia, which is about 100 kilometres from Kharkiv. But this necessitates the intervention of Indian diplomats to convince Ukrainian armed forces to offer safe passage to stranded Indians. Simultaneously, Indian diplomacy must prevail over Russian counterparts to allow Indians to enter without Russian visas, as was done by Poland, Hungary and Romania.
Indian diplomats can verify the antecedents of Indians entering Russia.
For India, the battle can be won, while the war rages but we must act immediately before the situation worsens.