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Putin says Indian students remain hostage in Kharkiv despite government’s denial

Putin says Indian students remain hostage in Kharkiv despite government’s denial
Nearly 17,000 Indians have left Ukraine’s borders in past few days, officials say

Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that a large number of Indian students continued to remain hostage in a train station at Kharkiv in Ukraine, despite the Indian government’s denial.

“They are taking hostage foreign citizens, including thousands of students who went to college in Ukraine. For more than one day at a train station in Kharkiv, 3,179 Indian citizens were held, prisoner,” Mr Putin said during his speech at Russia’s security council.

“They are still there… most of them are still there including 576 people in Sumy. Neo Nazis opened fire at Chinese citizens who wanted to leave Kharkiv, two of them were wounded,” he added.

Ukrainian forces are preventing hundreds of foreign citizens from leaving Kharkiv, he said, adding: “Basically, they are taking prisoners.”

The Indian government rebutted Mr Putin’s claims on Thursday and said they were in constant touch with their nationals, including students, and that they have not received any such reports.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told the media: “We have not received reports of any hostage situation regarding any student. We have requested support from the Ukrainian authorities in arranging special trains for taking out students from Kharkiv and neighbouring areas to the western part of the country.”

“Yesterday in Kharkiv, we issued an advisory for all Indians to leave the city by 6 pm local time. Pursuant to this, a large number of students left and are currently in the nearby city of Pisochyn. We estimate this number to be around 1,000.”

The Indian government, he added, is “currently looking at transportation options to move them from there to western or southern Ukraine depending on whatever transportation options work out”.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi also held talks with Mr Putin. His office said: “The leaders 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.”

Kremlin said Mr Putin had “stressed that all the necessary instructions had been given and that the Russian military was doing everything possible to ensure the safe removal of Indian citizens from the war zone and their return to their homeland”.

“The Russian side, in particular, is trying to organise an urgent evacuation of a group of Indian students from Kharkiv through the humanitarian corridor along the shortest route to Russia.”

It is estimated that there are around 4,000 Indians — mostly medical college students — stuck in the eastern and north-eastern parts of Ukraine, close to the Russian border. According to the Indian government, nearly 17,000 Indian nationals have crossed Ukraine’s borders in the past few days. And over 6,000 have been flown back home under New Delhi’s evacuation operation.

The Indian embassy in Ukraine had advised all Indians stranded in Kharkiv to “leave the conflict zone immediately by any means available, including on foot”.

One Indian student, 21-year-old Naveen Shekharappa, was killed on Tuesday in Kharkiv after he stepped out to stock up on food before taking the train out of the city.

Another Indian student, Harjot Singh, was shot at while trying to escape Kyiv in a cab a few days ago. “I contacted the embassy people and asked if they can provide the facility to take me to Lviv. I can’t walk. But all I get is fake comments,” he told Indian news channel NDTV.

Russia has waged war against Ukraine for nearly 10 days now. Over a million people have fled the country and thousands have reportedly died, while intense fighting has been underway across the country.

On Friday, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine – was seized by the Russian military forces on Friday.

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