Hundreds of Indian students still stuck in Ukraine; about 14,000 return aboard 63 chartered flights

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FILE PHOTO: Indian student Himanshu Yadav, 20, hugs his mother Shudesh, after arriving at Indira Gandhi International Airport on a special flight from Budapest carrying stranded Indian citizens from Ukraine, amid the ongoing Russian invasion, landed in New Delhi, India, March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo

Hundreds of Indian students are still stranded in conflict zones in eastern Ukraine, the government said, while around 14,000 people have returned to India from Ukraine so far by 63 flights. Fifteen flights have landed in the last 24 hours alone carrying around 2,900 onboard, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated Saturday, March 5, 2022.

But the government warned that arranging buses to evacuate the remaining students in eastern Ukraine, mainly in Sunny city, was proving to be the biggest challenge right now.

The Indian embassy in Ukraine today began its “last leg” of Operation Ganga – its evacuation mission for Indians stranded in Ukraine – and asked students who are staying in their own accommodations to reach the Hungaria City Center in capital Budapest by noon.

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MEA official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi noted that over 21,000 Indians have left Ukraine, which means that there were more Indian students in Ukraine than earlier reckoned. Most of these students – from India’s small towns and villages – are studying medicine whose higher education is very expensive in India’s private medical institutions and much beyond their reach.

MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “From Pisochyn and Kharkiv, we should be able to clear out everyone in the next few hours, so far I know almost all Indians have left Kharkiv. The main focus is on Sumy now, the challenge remains ongoing violence and lack of transportation and the best option would be a ceasefire.”

Russia and Ukraine announced Saturday a ceasefire — they called it a “regime of silence” — and humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha, but Indians stranded in eastern Ukraine were unable to use these exit routes, The Indian Express said. Ukraine said the Russians violated the agreement and the ongoing shelling made it “impossible to open humanitarian corridors for the safe evacuation of civilians”.

Some Indians were only able to move towards Ukraine’s western border, and not the eastern border with Russia.

Bagchi, the spokesperson, said not too many Indians werel left in Ukraine apart from those in Sumy and Pisochyn.

The Indian embassy in Ukraine said “Pisochyn has been evacuated of all Indian citizens. Mission will continue to remain in touch with them through their journey. Their safety has always been our priority.”

“The main focus is now on Sumy, which is on the north-east border with Russia. We are exploring multiple options for evacuating students out of there. But the main challenge remains the ongoing shelling there, violence and the lack of transportation options. I think even more than transportation, it is about having a secure and safe way to get them out while they are not under threat. We are in touch with all concerned regarding possible movement,” Bagchi said.

“The best option for us would be a ceasefire… that allows us to get our students out, and in this connection we have been strongly pressing both Russian and Ukrainian sides to allow this kind of a local ceasefire. It has not yet happened but we are continuing to push for that,” he said.

Partha Satpathy, India’s ambassador to Ukraine, also posted a message on Twitter, saying the government will leave “no stone unturned” in its efforts to ensure safe evacuation of students in Sumy.

“Over the past week, we have evacuated over 10,000 Indian students from Ukraine. Barring Kharkiv and Sumy, almost all Indians from the remaining regions of Ukraine have been evacuated. In the case of Kharkiv, despite being an active war zone with heavy shelling, we have maintained consistent and constant efforts to evacuate our citizens. Towards this end, in the past two days alone, we have evacuated more than 500 Indian students from Pisochyn,” the ambassador said.

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