An Indian student has been killed in shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, India’s foreign ministry says, as criticism over New Delhi’s evacuation of students from the war-torn country mounts.
“Foreign Secretary is calling in Ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine to reiterate our demand for urgent safe passage for Indian nationals who are still in Kharkiv and cities in other conflict zones,” ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi posted on Twitter on Tuesday.
Russian forces are firing artillery and laying siege to Kharkiv and other major cities, a Ukrainian official said, as the invasion of the former Soviet republic entered its sixth day.
With profound sorrow we confirm that an Indian student lost his life in shelling in Kharkiv this morning. The Ministry is in touch with his family.
We convey our deepest condolences to the family.
— Arindam Bagchi (@MEAIndia) March 1, 2022
Indian media reports said the student, identified as Naveen Shekharappa, belonged to the southern state of Karnataka’s Haveri district and studied medicine in Ukraine.
The student died while he was trying to find his way out of Kharkiv, his roommate told India’s NDTV network.
“He lived near the governor’s house and had been standing in the queue for food. Suddenly there was an air strike that blew up the governor’s house and he was killed,” Pooja Praharaj, a student coordinator in Kharkiv, told NDTV.
A Ukrainian woman picked up his phone, according to the student coordinator. “Speaking from his phone, she said the owner of this phone is being taken to the morgue,” Praharaj said.
Indians make up about a quarter of the 76,000 foreign students in Ukraine, by far the largest number, according to Ukrainian government data.
New Delhi has evacuated about 4,000 Indians in the last month, but some 16,000 remain trapped, according to the latest data from India’s foreign ministry.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Indian embassy in Ukraine also issued an advisory, asking the Indian students to “leave Kyiv urgently”.
Advisory to Indians in Kyiv
All Indian nationals including students are advised to leave Kyiv urgently today. Preferably by available trains or through any other means available.
— India in Ukraine (@IndiainUkraine) March 1, 2022
The Indian government has dispatched four federal ministers to Ukraine’s neighbouring countries to assist in the rescue efforts.
‘Screaming in terror’
But many stranded students in Ukraine have criticised the Indian government’s rescue efforts as they released a slew of videos on social media highlighting their plight.
“The students have been abandoned in this icy-cold weather, the Indian Embassy is not with us nor the agent who took money from these students,” says the man in the video. Location- Odessa border, Ukraine pic.twitter.com/r156GBXZBE
— Vijaita Singh (@vijaita) February 28, 2022
According to Indian media, some Indian students are being prevented from crossing into neighbouring countries, with border guards reportedly refusing to let them pass and demanding money.
“I was standing near the Ukrainian border, awaiting my turn to enter Romania when I saw a few guards point guns at Indian students and start abusing them in their language,” the Times of India quoted one student as saying.
“Students, who were already scared, started screaming in terror.”
The Hindustan Times quoted Ishika Sarkar, a student in eastern Ukraine, saying in a video that Indians in the area were in bunkers and running short of food.
“(We) have been asked to reach the western border, which is impossible for us because the connecting bridges have been blown up due to bombardment… but we are not getting any kind of help in Ukraine,” he said.
Aruj Raj, a student in Kharkiv, told the newspaper that he has been in a hostel bunker with 400 other Indian students since Thursday.
“There is so much bombing happening outside. We can see street fighting through our windows. The city is still under curfew. It is impossible for us to step outside. We hardly have anything left to eat or drink,” he said.
India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday slammed the government for not coming up with “a strategic plan for safe evacuation” of Indian students in Ukraine.
“Every minute is precious,” he tweeted.