India concerned about students trapped in Sumy

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India has regretted that despite appeals to Russia and Ukraine, a safe corridor has not been set up for students trapped in the Ukrainian city of Sumy, while 20,000 other Indians have been evacuated on more than 80 flights…writes Arul Louis

“We are deeply concerned that despite our repeated urgings to both sides, the safe corridor for our students stranded in Sumy did not materialise,” India’s Permanent Representative T.S. Tirumurti told the Security Council on Monday during consultations on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

He said that India has “reiterated our urgent demand for safe and uninterrupted passage for all innocent civilians, including Indian nationals remaining in Ukraine”.

Russia’s Permanent Representative Vasily Nebenza said that Moscow was offering tomorrow a safe corridor from Sumy and other cities in Ukraine.

A statement in Moscow said that the corridor from Sumy would lead to Russia.

Evacuation efforts from Sumy in northeastern Ukraine, about 60 km from the Russian borders, for an estimated 700 Indian students have been put on hold because of shellings and the disputes between Kiev and Moscow on the routes of evacuations.

Ukraine’s Permanent Representative Sergiy Kyslytsya accused Russia of carrying out attacks on Sumy among other places to prevent evacuations.

As he and Nebenza traded charges about which country was blocking the evacuations, Moscow announced the offer of safe corridors without conditions on where the evacuees can go leaving the choice to them.

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But the statement in Moscow sounded as if the corridor from Sumy would go to Russia.

Tirumurti said India “managed to facilitate the safe return of over 20,000 Indians from Ukraine” as well as citizens of other countries who asked for help and was open to helping them in the future.

“More than 80 evacuation flights have been crisscrossing the skies to bring them home,” he said.

Kiev wants the evacuations to be routed to the West, while Moscow had insisted the evacuees go to Russia or Belarus and both diplomats said that the other would take the evacuees hostage.

The Indian Embassy in Ukraine had tweeted on Sunday that the students in Sumy would be evacuated through Poltav to the west but it had not been able to follow through as of Monday.

The students had created a desperate video with the message, “This is our last request”.

Tirumurti said India has sent to Ukraine and its neighbouring countries seven tranches of humanitarian suppliers that include medicines, medical equipment, tents, tarpaulin, protective eye gear, water storage tanks, solar lamps, sleeping mats and blankets.

“It is important that humanitarian action is always guided by the principles of humanitarian assistance, that is, humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. These should not be politicised.”

Unicef’s Executive Director Catherine Russell, who briefed the Council said: “What is happening to children in Ukraine is a moral outrage.”

She said that according to the UN Refugee Agency, 1,207 civilian casualties have been recorded in Ukraine and since the war began on February 24, at least 27 children have been killed and 42 children have been wounded.

About 1.7 million refugees, half of them children, have fled to neighbouring countries, she said.

“As the fighting has now reached densely populated areas and across the country, we expect child casualties to increase.”

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said that the “unnecessary” conflict in Ukraine has “an extra sense of dread over the impact this will have on the wider world”.

He said that the two sides “must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian homes” and allow people who want to leave the conflict areas.

US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: “We are outraged by increased reports of Moscow’s attacks harming Ukrainian civilians in its unprovoked, unjustified war against the Ukrainian people.”

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She along with other members of the Council called for allowing evacuees to leave Ukraine and access for humanitarian aid to that country.

“We need Russia’s firm, clear, public, and unequivocal commitment to allow and facilitate immediate, unhindered humanitarian access for humanitarian partners in Ukraine.”

Nebenza claimed that the attacks on civilians are being carried out by “radicals and neo-Nazis”, who are not allowing civilians to use the safe corridors and using them, including foreign citizens, as “hostages”.