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India asks Russia to end violence as it scrambles to save its citizens stuck in Ukraine

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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Indian prime minister Narendra Modi yesterday (Feb. 24) called up Vladimir Putin and “appealed for an immediate cessation of violence.”

Modi’s call to Putin came at a time when the Russian president is hosting Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan for two days. India and Pakistan have a long-standing ongoing rivalry and, in recent decades, have both sought to woo Russia.

Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden said on Thursday that the US will talk to India about the crisis in Ukraine.

“President Putin briefed the prime minister about the recent developments regarding Ukraine. The prime minister reiterated his long-standing conviction that the differences between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue,” the Indian government said in a press release.

Modi also “sensitised the Russian president” about India’s concerns regarding the safety of its citizens in Ukraine. It conveyed to Putin that India attaches the “highest priority” to its citizens’ safe exit and return to India.

Indian citizens stuck in Ukraine

India still has over 15,000 citizens, mainly students, stranded in the violence-hit Ukraine.

India’s rescue plans took a hit yesterday after Ukraine closed its airspace and an Air India plane, on an evacuation mission, was forced to return mid-way to Delhi.

Later, it was also reported that Russia has bombed the Kyiv airport, dealing a heavy blow to hopes of Indians stuck there to return home safely.

India on Thursday released three advisories, stating that the Indian embassy in Kyiv is aware of air sirens and bomb warnings. “In case you are faced with such a situation, Google Maps has a list of nearby bomb shelters, many of which are located in underground metros,” it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, students have started queuing up at the Indian embassy in hopes to get some clarification.

The Indian government, however, has assured them that all possible efforts will be made to save them and that out of 20,000 Indians, it has so far repatriated at least 4,000.

The struggle for survival in Ukraine

Amid deteriorating conditions, India is now sending its teams to the land borders with Ukraine in Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic, and Romania.

For those stuck near the Ukraine border, India has advised them to be ready with their necessary documents and to reach out to the helpline for a smoother exit. The government has set up a 24*7 call centre to provide assistance to its citizens in war-hit Ukraine.

Yet, these efforts may simply not be enough.

“I don’t know how long we will be stuck here like this. There is no help from anyone. We are eating the biscuits and juice that we have brought with us to the metro station,” a 21-year-old stranded Indian student told Al Jazeera on Feb. 24. “Our families are so worried that they call us after every few minutes.”

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