The students abandoned the idea of walking towards the Russian border amid fusillades of artillery fire and missile barrages, after the Indian government assured them they will be evacuated safely.

Hundreds of Indian students await rescue from Sumy, melting snow to drink water
news Russia-Ukraine War Monday, March 07, 2022 - 09:18

Over 700 Indian students stuck in Sumy have been melting snow to slake their thirst and  are fast running out of supplies. They have been standing on roads every morning hoping to be rescued from the war. India on Sunday, March 6, continued its efforts to evacuate the students from the embattled northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy but with little success as severe shelling and airstrikes continued. 

The Indian embassy in Ukraine said a team from the mission has been stationed in Poltava city to coordinate the safe passage of the Indian students in Sumy to western borders via Poltava, and advised them to be ready to leave at short notice. India has been urging both Russian and Ukrainian authorities to create a safe passage for the students to either move to the Russian border or to western Ukraine for their exit to Romania, Hungary or Poland.

On Saturday, March 5 morning, the Indian students posted a video 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. Following the video, the Indian embassy in Ukraine requested them not to endanger their lives and conveyed that it will leave no stone unturned to safely evacuate them. The students relented following the assurance.

25-year-old Jisna Jiji, a medical student, said they have no option but to wait patiently as walking to the Russian border is fraught with danger. Aashiq Hussain Sarkar, also a medical student, tweeted, "Every day at 6 AM students are waiting for buses on the road. We still believe today is the day. But they keep postponing the date everyday. So please Don't break our Hopes.#Sumy". With most roads and bridges destroyed in the city and no transport available, Jiji said it is "impossible" to reach the border.

"Moreover, we have heard the few foreign students who had managed to reach the border were sent back by the military. So we have decided to wait," Jiji said. Jiji said many students were crammed in the basements of their hostels, melting snow to quench their thirst with little food left and power and water lines snapped.

"We are still in Sumy. We have not got any update yet when we will be evacuated. But we cannot continue like this for longer. Our problems are increasing day by day. We appeal to the government to update us immediately," said a girl in a video message. "There is no water here, electricity supply has been disrupted. There's no money in ATMs, girls don't have sanitary napkins," said another despairing student in the same video.

India had 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.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the government was not in favour of students venturing out till a safe passage was made available. Bagchi also said India's main focus was now on evacuating the students stranded in Sumy, after the safe exit of Indians from Kharkiv and Pisochyn was almost complete.

"STOP asking #sumystudents why didn't we leave sumy!!! As if we had a choice and we didn't go with it! #aveSumyStudents," Jana Kalaji, another medical student tweeted. In the last few days, the students have been sending SOS messages and posting videos on social media, pleading for their urgent evacuation.

People familiar with the matter said there was no indication yet from the Russian and Ukrainian sides to create a "humanitarian corridor" or to put in place a ceasefire to evacuate Indians stuck in Sumy, notwithstanding India's repeated calls for such an arrangement. They said India has been stepping up efforts to ensure early evacuation of the students from the Sumy State University. "There has been no real movement. But we are continuing with our efforts to evacuate them," said one of the people cited above.

Chief of Russia's National Centre for State Defence Control Colonel Gen Mikhail Mizintsev claimed on Saturday that the Ukrainian side has refused to agree to a Russian proposal to open humanitarian corridors in Kharkiv and Sumy.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Saturday that almost all Indians have left Kharkiv and evacuation from Pisochyn was nearing completion. The Indian embassy in Hungary suggested the evacuation mission from the country is nearing completion as it is beginning the last leg of flights under the operation.

India has been bringing back its nationals from Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova after they crossed over to these countries from Ukraine through land border transit points. Ukraine had closed its airspace for civilian aircraft after Russia began the military operation.

According to officials, around 2,500 Indians were evacuated on 13 flights in the last 24 hours. They said seven flights are scheduled over the next 24 hours to bring back stranded Indians from Hungary, Romania and Poland. There will be five flights from Budapest, one each from Rzeszow in Poland and Suceava in Romania. "Under Operation Ganga, so far 76 flights have brought over 15,920 Indians back to India. Out of these 76 flights, 13 flights landed in the last 24 hours," said an official.

The Indian embassy in Hungary asked Indian students, who are still in that country, to report to designated contact points for return to India.

"Important Announcement: Embassy of India begins its last leg of Operation Ganga flights today. All those students staying in their OWN accommodation ( other than arranged by Embassy) are requested to reach @Hungariacitycentre, Rakoczi Ut 90, Budapest between 10 am-12 pm," it said.

Separately, the Indian embassy in Ukraine asked all Indians who are still stuck there to fill up an online form. "All Indian nationals who still remain in Ukraine are requested to fill up the details contained in the attached Google Form on an URGENT BASIS. Be Safe Be Strong," it tweeted.

The details sought are name, email, phone number, address of current stay, passport details, gender and age. The embassy also asked for indicating the current location of the Indians still stranded in Ukraine. A list of locations has been provided in the form and an option has been given to select the location from the list.

The locations mentioned in the online form are Cherkassy, Chernihiv, Chernivtsi, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Khmelnytsky, Kirovograd, Kyiv, Luhansk, Lviv, Mykolaiv and Odessa. The list also included Poltava, Rivne, Sumy, Ternopil, Vinnytsya, Volyn, Zakarpattya, Zaporozhzhya and Zhytomyr.

The embassy also said that a group of 44 Indians who began their trip from Pisochyn are on their way to the Polish border from Lviv. "Other group of 150+ have made their way to the Romanian border. Our efforts are ongoing. Be Safe Be Strong," it tweeted.

Officials said over 21,000 Indians came out of Ukraine since the issuance of advisory weeks before the conflict began. Out of them, 19,920 Indians have already reached India. Six tranches of humanitarian aid were sent earlier for Ukraine and on Sunday, one more tranche weighing six tonnes was dispatched by IAF flight to Poland.

The MEA control room, as well as the control centres operated by the Indian embassies, continue to operate on a 24x7 basis, the officials said. The MEA control room has attended to 12,435 calls and 9026 emails till Sunday afternoon, according to the officials.

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