"Our main focus is now on evacuating Indian students from Sumy. We are exploring multiple options for their evacuation," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said on Saturday.
The statement was made by the MEA spokesperson as India is going full steam in trying to evacuate Indians, mostly students, from war-hit Ukraine — through its Operation Ganga.
As of Sunday, India had brought back over 15,920 nationals on 76 flights under evacuation mission 'Operation Ganga' that was launched following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Officials in India acknowledged that around 700 students in Sumy were waging a grim battle for survival with supplies depleting fast and exit routes to safety blocked by fierce fighting.
As the MEA works hard to get Indians to safety, we take a look at where Sumy is located, what are the challenges that Indians are facing in Sumy and why evacuation from this region is becoming tougher than imagined.
Where is Sumy located?
Sumy is located about 350 km east of Kyiv and 180 km northwest of Kharkiv and is just 40 km from Ukraine’s northeast border.
Sumy was one of the first cities to be attacked by Russian forces after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
There are around 700 Indians, mostly students of medical colleges at Sumy State University, stranded in this city.
Other than the 700 Indians, there are also 400 Nigerian students currently in Sumy, the second largest group of foreign students after Indians. Other students include citizens of Ghana, Rwanda, Turkmenistan, Jordan and Palestine.
Situation on the ground
Sumy has constantly been under attack since 24 February, the day Vladimir Putin announced the special ‘military operation’ in Ukraine.
As per reported information, trains and buses have stopped running; roads and bridges out of the city have been destroyed and fighting has been reported in the streets.
According to some of the students, who are sheltered in hostel buildings, food and water supplies are running low and it was no longer safe to head to local stores.
The Indians trapped in Sumy had captured the headlines on Saturday when they posted a video clip declaring they had decided to risk the walk to the Russian border in biting cold amid the fighting, raising fears about their safety in the corridors of power in New Delhi.
We are told we are warriors, we are consolidated by saying we are brave, but when we will be told that finally we are evacuating.. Please help us we are running out of helps.. #sumy #Sumyevacuation @opganga @MEAIndia @PMOIndia @CNN @BBCWorld @timesofindia @IndiainUkraine pic.twitter.com/HzLoI61q0Q
— Shivangi shibu (@IndShivangi) March 4, 2022
Soon after the video went viral, the Indian government asked the students to remain in shelters and assured them they will be rescued soon.
An Indian girl in a video said, "We cannot continue like this for longer. Our problems are increasing day by day. We appeal to the government to update us immediately," adding that there was no water, electricity supply had been disrupted and there was no money in ATMs.
Indian students stranded in Sumy, Ukraine in helpless desperation without food & water are now heading towards the border which is 600kms away. This is scary and dangerous without guidance. I hope @opganga & EAM @DrSJaishankar can immediately help them. Praying for their safety. pic.twitter.com/TkKeaezRPv
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) March 5, 2022
Another student by the name of Malavika, told Hindustan Times that the situation had become so dire that they were taking snow from outside and melting it to quench their thirst.
Spoke to Stranded Indian studnts in Sumy state #Ukraine.Huge explosion near studnts hostel, Everyone is frightened, anxious. No availability of Light. Studnts took ice frm outside hostel & now melting it for drinking, as there is no water available.@Nidhi @_sayema @alishan_jafri pic.twitter.com/XLzZNLVnCB
— Nasir Khuehami (ناصر کہویہامی) (@NasirKhuehami) March 4, 2022
India’s evacuation plans
India on Sunday said that it was doing all it could to evacuate its nationals from Sumy and with that aim in mind, they had got a team from the mission stationed in Poltava city to coordinate the safe passage of the Indian students to western borders via Poltava, and advised them to be ready to leave at short notice.
Team from Embassy of India is stationed in Poltava City to coordinate the safe passage of Indian students stranded in Sumy to Western borders via Poltava.
Confirmed time & date will be issued soon. 🇮🇳n students advised to be ready to leave on short notice.@MEAIndia @opganga
— India in Ukraine (@IndiainUkraine) March 6, 2022
Poltava is approximately 200 km south of Sumy, which is located in northeast Ukraine, close to the Russian border.
At a press meet on Sunday, MEA spokesperson Arindam Baghchi had said that India is exploring multiple options for the evacuation of the students.
"We are in touch with all concerned. The best option for us would be a ceasefire that allows our students to get out and we have been strongly pressing both the Russian and Ukrainian sides to allow this kind of a local ceasefire," he said.
Bagchi said the complete attention of India's evacuation efforts now is on getting the students out of Sumy safely.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Sunday said it is "absolutely essential" to pause the fighting in Ukraine to allow for the safe passage of civilians caught in the conflict in areas like Kharkiv and Sumy.
With inputs from agencies