India, which has managed to safely bring back over 20,000 of its nationals from Ukraine amid the ongoing war, said it is “deeply concerned” that despite its repeated urgings to both Russia and Ukraine, the safe corridor for Indian students stranded in eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy did not materialise.

“India has been consistent in calling for an immediate end to all hostilities,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador TS Tirumurti told the UN Security Council meeting Monday on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

He said India has reiterated its urgent demand for safe and uninterrupted passage for all innocent civilians, including Indian nationals remaining in Ukraine. “We are deeply concerned that despite our repeated urgings to both sides, the safe corridor for our students stranded in Sumy did not materialize,” Tirumurti said.

20,000 Indians returned so far

Tirumurti said India has managed to facilitate the safe return of over 20,000 Indians from Ukraine. “We have also assisted nationals from other countries, who approached us, in their return to their respective countries. And we will remain open to doing so in the coming days.”

The Indian envoy told the Council that more than 80 evacuation flights have been crisscrossing the skies to bring the Indian nationals home. “We are appreciative of the assistance rendered by the authorities of Ukraine and its neighbouring countries in facilitating their return.”

Around 700 Indian students are stranded in Sumy, which has been witnessing intense fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops for days now. India has been making efforts to evacuate its citizens from the city but with little success due to heavy shelling and air strikes.

To evacuate its citizens from war-hit Ukraine, the Indian government has launched 'Operation Ganga' under which thousands of stranded people, mostly students, have been evacuated from nations bordering Ukraine's western frontiers. However, the evacuation from the eastern part remains a challenge.

‘Principles of humanitarian assistance’

Tirumurti underscored it is important that humanitarian action is always guided by the principles of humanitarian assistance - humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. “These should not be politicised,” he said.

Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia had told the UN Security Council last week that Ukraine nationals are keeping over 3700 Indian citizens “by force” in Kharkiv and Sumy and buses from Russia are ready and waiting at crossing points to go to these Ukrainian cities to evacuate Indian students and other foreign nationals.

“Terrorists do not let civilians leave cities. This impacts not only Ukrainians, but foreigners as well. "The number of foreign citizens whom Ukrainian nationals are keeping by force is shocking. Kharkov – 3189 nationals of India, up to 2700 nationals of Vietnam, 202 nationals of China. Sumy – 576 nationals of India, 101 nationals of Ghana, 121 national of China,” Nebenzia had said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres tweeted on Sunday that it is “absolutely essential” to establish a pause in the fighting in Ukraine to allow for the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy, as well as all other places caught in conflict, and to ensure life-saving humanitarian supplies can move in for those who remain.

In his phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed his deep concern for the safety and security of the Indian students still remaining in Sumy. “President Putin briefed Prime Minister about the ongoing measures related to humanitarian corridors for facilitating evacuation of civilians including Indian students,” an official release issued in New Delhi said.

Modi also suggested that a direct conversation between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “may greatly assist the ongoing peace efforts.”

PM Modi speaks to Ukraine Prez

In his conversation with Zelensky, Modi expressed deep concern about the ongoing conflict and resultant humanitarian crisis. Modi thanked Ukrainian authorities for their facilitation in evacuating more than 20,000 Indian citizens from Ukraine. Modi emphasized the need for quick and safe evacuation of students stranded in Ukraine.

Tirumurti told the Council that in his conversations with the leadership of both sides, Modi reiterated “our call for immediate ceasefire and the need for both parties to return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy.” Tirumurti said numerous lives have been lost so far due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, including a young Indian student.

India mourns student’s death

“India mourns his death and we convey our deepest condolences to his family, just as we mourn the loss of each and every civilian life in the conflict.”

In the first Indian casualty in the war in Ukraine, 21 year old fourth-year medical student at the Kharkiv National Medical University Naveen Shekarappa Gyanagoudar from Karnataka was killed in shelling in Kharkiv city. Tirumurti said the worsening situation in Ukraine and ensuing humanitarian crisis “deserves our immediate and urgent attention”.

As per the UN’s own estimate, 1.5 million refugees have sought shelter in neighbouring countries of Ukraine over the last 11 days, he said. “This has led to a pressing humanitarian crisis that needs to be addressed expeditiously,” he added.