All efforts being made to bring back 7,000 to 8,000 Indians from Ukraine, says govt

Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has spoken to the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Slovak Republic and Poland regarding safety and facilitation of evacuation of Indian nationals from Ukraine” and more flights, including those of the Indian Air Force (IAF), are being sent to evacuate them from the war-hit country, the Union government told the Kerala High Court Wednesday.

The Centre filed an affidavit in response to a petition by the Kerala High Court Advocates Association and the parents of a second-year medical student at VN Karazin National University in Kharkiv seeking directions to the government to take all earnest efforts to facilitate the repatriation of students from Kerala stranded in Ukraine.

Evacuation plan

The affidavit submitted by Assistant Solicitor General S Manu said out of the estimated 20,000 Indian nationals in Ukraine, 30 per cent have already crossed the Ukrainian borders and another 30 per cent have reached India. “Out of the estimated 20,000 Indian nationals in Ukraine, 60% (30% reached India and 30% in neighbouring countries) have already crossed the Ukrainian borders and are safe. Government is also taking necessary measures to evacuate the remaining 40% of the Indian nationals by utilizing all its means,” it said.

The Centre also said that “as on 1st March, 15 evacuation flights have already been operated” as part of Operation Ganga to evacuate stranded Indians “and 26 flights have been planned over 1st to 3rd March that will evacuate about 5500 more Indian nationals”.

“The situation in Kharkiv is volatile and under heavy shelling” and it is, therefore “advisable for our students to stay put wherever they are for their physical safety”.

In addition to the passenger flights, Air Force planes are also being sent to these countries, including two flights to Romania and one flight each to Poland and Hungary on March 2 for evacuation, the Centre said. More IAF flights would also be sent in the coming days, it added.

“As and when the situation improves, the students in Kharkiv will be evacuated on priority in a suitable manner. Our Mission in Kyiv is in touch with most of the students and has been trying to make available provisions where possible. The Mission has also requested the Ukrainian authorities for ensuring their safety and security. The Ministry of External Affairs has also taken up with the Ukrainian Embassy in New Delhi regarding the need to ensure safety and security of Indian nationals in Ukraine,” it said.

Union Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar has also spoken to Foreign Ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovak Republic and Moldova in this regard, it pointed out.

Advisories, Operation Ganga

Regarding steps to bring back the Indian nationals, the affidavit said “advisories were initially issued by the Indian Embassy on 15th and 20th of February, 2022 asking Indians to temporarily leave Kyiv.”

“On 28th February, in view of the increasing insecurity in the capital Kyiv, out of 1400-1500 Indian nationals remaining, around 1200-1300 nationals were facilitated by the Indian Embassy in Kyiv to leave the capital by available trains and other means for relatively safer destinations in western parts of Ukraine. On 1st March, another Advisory was issued by the Indian Embassy in Kyiv for the remaining Indian nationals to leave Kyiv immediately and as a result, almost all the Indian nationals left Kyiv.”

Besides, the Embassy of India in Warsaw also issued 6 advisories to guide the Indian nationals for crossing the border from Ukraine to Poland, it pointed out.

The government said that around 20,000 Indian nationals were in Ukraine, most of them pursuing studies in medicine, and that “during 16th to 23rd of February, around 4,000 Indian nationals returned to India by utilizing commercial flights” after advisories were issued by the Embassies.

The affidavit said under Operation Ganga, more than 2,000 Indian nationals have been brought back to India from Ukraine’s neighbouring countries of Romania and Hungary. Around 6,000 Indian nationals have already crossed the borders of Ukraine and are presently in the neighbouring countries of Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova.

These Indian nationals are being taken care of by the government, at its cost, till they reach India under Operation Ganga. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 Indian nationals remain in Ukraine, mainly in the east of the country, for which efforts are being made by the government to bring them back “as soon as possible”.

The petitioners contended that students have to bear the cost and risk of travelling in a war zone. They also said that Indians are facing mass discrimination and torture by Ukrainian Army and border patrol and made to wait in extreme cold weather and that “one of the main reasons is due to lack of presence of representatives of Indian Embassy”.

‘Extraordinary exodus’

Responding to the alleged chaotic situation and inconvenience faced by Indians at the borders, the Union Government said more than half a million Ukrainians and other foreign expatriates fled westward from conflict zones to land borders of neighbouring countries.

“This extraordinary exodus of lakhs clogged land borders exits. A number of Indians were also therefore stranded and initially inconvenienced on the land borders, particularly the land border with Poland, where lakhs had begun gathering from 25th of February,” it said. “The reports of difficulties at the borders faced by some of our students, including insensitivity by border guards may be seen in the context of the situation in a war zone, and is also attributed to the overwhelming numbers, breakdown of systems and extreme weather conditions.”

MEA teams at borders

Anticipating the evacuation through neighbouring countries on the west of Ukraine, teams of the Ministry of External Affairs, some led by ambassadors, were positioned at the Polish, Romanian and Hungary side of the land borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovak Republic and Moldova since February 25 “to receive and pro-actively arrange the onward evacuation from their respective neighbouring countries”.

The government said that the “Embassy in Kyiv and the Ministry of External Affairs has been pro-actively guiding and taking all necessary steps for evacuation of Indian nationals from Ukraine”.

The affidavit pointed out that “Indian Embassies in the neighbouring countries i.e. Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland are receiving the Indian evacuees, providing food, water and shelter to the extent possible, and also making arrangements for Indian rescue flights to take our nationals home”. Money from the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) is being utilised for the evacuation purpose and the evacuees are not paying flight charge for their repatriation to India, it added.

The government affidavit said the “the Embassy of India in Kyiv arranged place on the trains for Indian nationals after taking up the matter with the local authorities. This helped in moving out most of the Indian nationals out of Kyiv to the relatively safer western borders of Ukraine from where they will cross the borders with the neighbouring countries and then will be brought back to India by the Operation Ganga flights.

Officers from the ministry have already been positioned at the border check posts of Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, bordering Ukraine. “These officers are working in close cooperation with the border authorities of Ukraine and the neighbouring countries in the facilitation of crossing of the Indian citizens”.

The Union Government urged the court to dismiss the writ petition moved by the Kerala high court association.

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