Ukraine: India denies claims that citizens in Kharkiv are held "hostages"
India on Thursday denied that its citizens are being kept hostage in the eastern city of Kharkiv in Ukraine, as claimed by Russia. According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), special trains are being organized for Indian people with the assistance of Ukrainian authorities to transport them out of the war-torn city. The statement is in contradiction to Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim.
- Nearly 4,000 Indians, mostly students, live in Kharkiv, Sumy, and other eastern Ukrainian cities.
- On Wednesday, India asked its citizens to leave Kharkiv within five hours by all means possible, including foot, and go to comparably safer zones placed within 15 kilometers of the city.
- India's evacuation mission, "Operation Ganga," is already underway in Ukraine, with the Indian Air Force aiding the task.
The "hostage" claim was shared by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his telephonic conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President Putin informed the prime minister that the Indian students were "taken hostage by the Ukrainian forces." The Ukrainian foreign ministry, however, rejected Russia's charge, claiming that students from India and other countries were unable to leave Kharkiv due to "indiscriminate bombardment" by Russia.
During the phone call with Modi on Wednesday, Putin said that appropriate measures are taken by the Russian military to "safely remove Indian nationals from the fighting zone." "The Russian side...is attempting to organise an urgent evacuation of a group of Indian students from Kharkiv via the humanitarian corridor via the shortest path to Russia," said Putin, as per a News9 report.
According to the United Nations, one million people have fled Ukraine since last Thursday. The evacuation activities are taking place in neighboring nations because Ukraine's airspace is restricted following the Russian invasion. Over 12,000 of the 20,000 Indians who had previously been present in Ukraine had been removed by Thursday. On Wednesday, India ordered its citizens to evacuate Kharkiv's combat zone immediately.
Russia started a "special military operation" in Ukraine last Thursday morning to "demilitarize" and "denazify" the nation. Ukraine has labeled Russia's activities as "state terrorism," citing Russian forces' attacks on residential complexes, administrative facilities, a hospital, and a broadcast tower, among other targets. An International Criminal Court prosecutor has announced the launch of an inquiry into alleged war crimes in Ukraine.