Rajat Sharma

How Modi saved the lives of nearly 700 Indian students trapped in Sumy

akbFrom war-torn Ukraine on Tuesday, came good news about nearly 700 Indian students evacuated from Sumy in 12 Red Cross buses arranged by Indian embassy. The convoy of buses made its way through a safe corridor created by Russian and Ukrainian forces for 12 hours in the midst of raging battle. The students, after reaching Poltova, will board trains to the Ukrainian border, for onward evacuation to India by air.

For the last 13 days, these Indian students were huddled inside bunkers with missiles and bombs exploding outside, and firing going on. They had no electricity and water, and most of them were without food. Several students were eating biscuits dipped in water, melted from snow falling outside. All of them were living in a state of terror.

Their escape to freedom was made possible due to strenuous efforts made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the highest level. Modi had spoken on telephone to both the Russian and Ukrainian presidents on Monday and had requested them to agree on a ceasefire so that a safe corridor could be arranged for Indian students.

Since Sumy was close to the Russian border, and was the hotbed of conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces, it was difficult to evacuate them to the western border adjoining Poland, Romania and Hungary, which is 1,200 to 1,500 km away from the city. On Monday, the students were asked to come out of the bunkers and board the buses, but were again asked to go back, as the safe corridor which was expected from both sides, did not materialize. The ceasefire was not operational at that time.

However, on Tuesday, Prime Minister Modi personally monitored the evacuation and ensured that the Indian students got safe passage, said Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. While Modi spoke to Putin and Volodmyr Zelenskyy, India raised this humanitarian issue at the UN Security Council too. Soon after, Russia and Ukraine agreed on a 12-hour ceasefire in Sumy and the students heaved a sigh of relief.

It was Mission Impossible for Modi, who had to persuade both Putin and Zelenskyy to agree on a limited ceasefire. For India, it was a big challenge which was overcome through close coordination between officials.

Overall, till now, more than 18,000 Indian nationals have been evacuated. Evacuating Indians from Kiev was easy, but providing safe passage to Indians from Kharkiv, where Russian missiles were being rained, was a big challenge. At that time, too, Modi spoke to Putin, and requested him to order a halt on attacks on Kharkiv, so that Indians could be evacuated. Russian army halted missile attacks, and Indians were brought to Poland border, from where they have now returned to India.

Indian nationals were brought home in 75 special civilian flights, while Indian Air Force carried out 12 flights for evacuation. On Tuesday, 410 Indian students returned home in two special flights. Many of the students narrated their ordeals in the midst of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces. In all, 28 flights were organized for evacuation from Hungary, 21 flights from Romania and nine from Moldova. All the evacuees praised the efforts made by Indian officials under ‘Operation Ganga’.

From Sumy, nearly 5,000 civilians were evacuated in convoys accompanied by Red Cross during the 12-hour ceasefire from 9 am till 9 pm on Tuesday, the Ukrainian Deputy PM said. Most of them were Indians, Chinese, and nationals from Jordan and Tunisia.

The war, into its 14th day today, is acquiring menacing proportions with fierce battles raging on several fronts. Russian forces attacked several cities of Ukraine killing more than 400 civilians, while air raid sirens were sounded in capital Kiev on Wednesday. There are reports of the Russian army planning a final assault on Kiev soon.

On Tuesday night, Russian Air Force jets bombed residential areas around Kharkiv, and Zhytomyr, to the west of Kyiv. The Russian army also stepped up shelling on suburbs of capital Kyiv. The situation is worse in Bucha, Hostomel, Irpen, Vyshhorod, and Borodianka, all suburbs of capital Kyiv, where bodies are lying on the streets unclaimed. In the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, the mayor is struggling to feed nearly 2 lakh homeless people, who have been housed in sports halls, schools and other buildings.

Till now, the Russian army has occupied a swathe of southern and coastal Ukraine, but its advances have been stopped near capital Kyiv and several other cities. In Mariupol, a city of 4,30,000 people, where fierce fighting is raging, there are unclaimed bodies lying on the streets, and several lakhs of people trapped in bunkers, basement shelters and subways inside the city. There is no water, electricity, heat, sanitary facilities and phone service. The planned evacuation of civilians from Mariupol failed, when Russian forces fired at a Ukrainian convoy sent with humanitarian cargo. The convoy was meant to evacuate civilians on its return journey.

During war, both sides inflate their claims about casualties, in order to boost the morale of their armies. On Tuesday, Ukrainian defence claimed that till now nearly 12,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, 48 aircraft, 80 helicopters, 303 tanks, 108 artillery guns, 1,036 armed combat vehicles, 474 jeeps, 60 fuel tanks have been destroyed. President Zelenskyy is releasing his videos at least twice or thrice a day to show that he is in charge. He asks his people and forces to keep up their morale and fight the Russians. On Tuesday, he said in a video, “I am not hiding, nor am I fearing, I will not flee Ukraine”.

Even if Ukrainian army’s claims may be true, the fact on the ground is that the Russian army still has the upper hand. In the last 13 days, it has broken the back of Ukrainian infrastructure. All defence installations, government buildings, fuel depots in Mariupol have been destroyed in Russian aerial attacks. There have been widespread damages in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Irpin and Odessa. Many buildings in these cities are now in ruins.

Two million people, nearly half of them children, have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries in the past two weeks. Out of them 1.2 million, mostly women and children, have taken refuge in neighbouring Poland. There are nearly 2 lakh refugees in Hungary and 1.5 lakh in Slovakia. There are more than 85,000 refugees in Romania, and nearly 83,000 in Moldova. This is the worst humanitarian crisis engulfing Europe since World War 2.

In ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Tuesday night, we showed the video of a Ukrainian boy, wearing a tattered coat, carrying a bag with his dolls, and another bag containing food, and weeping. This boy does not know why this war broke out, who are fighting against whom. He only knows that he has run away from his home, when the attacks took place. The tears in the eyes of this innocent boy is found to make elderly people weep.

There is another video of a 10-year old homeless Ukrainian girl Annamaria Maslovska at a railway station in Zahony, Hungary, right on the Ukrainian border. The girl is fortunate that her family is with her, but in the video, she is saying, how she is missing her home and her friends. She says, she had a lot of toys, and there were many games to play at the nearby park, but no more.

Every war takes a toll, but, in the process, it ruins the lives of those who belong to the younger generation. For them, the future is bleak. The sooner this war ends, the better.

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