India trying to rescue last batch of students from Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: Indian students that fled Ukraine rest in a sports hall in Voluntari, Ilfov, near Bucharest, Romania, February 28, 2022. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganeavia REUTERS/File Photo

About 700 Indians, mostly medical students, are waiting to be rescued from the north-eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy, close to the Russian border, with Indian authorities and media saying they were the last big group from the country still stranded there.

Initially, it was estimated that around 18,000 to 20,000 Indians were in Ukraine, but that number went up during the evacuation process with some, who did not register in the initial days, doing so later. In all, over 21,000 Indians have left Ukraine since the last week of January, including 19,920 who have reached India in 76 flights chartered by the Indian government.

Officials said that a team from the Indian Embassy is stationed in Poltava, a city in central Ukraine, through which they hope to coordinate the safe passage of the students in Sumy to the western border. The students have been told to be ready to leave at short notice, they said.

Renish Joseph, a student coordinator with Sumy State University who has been communicating with Indian officials, told Indian reporters that the evacuation could start “any minute”, depending on the conflict situation. Since Ukrainian airspace has been closed for civilian flights, India has been evacuating its stranded nationals via land routes of Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, Poland and Hungary.

On Sunday, India commenced the final leg of Operation Ganga, the government’s massive evacuation mission, from Hungary, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi said was proof of India’s “growing influence” around the world.

In Ukraine, the Indian Embassy is trying to get a “sense” of how many Indians are still stranded in that country, particularly in Sumy, amid intense shelling and efforts to ensure safe passage. It has asked all those who are yet to leave conflict zones in Ukraine to “urgently” fill up a Google form, with personal details and location, for evacuation.

According to Joseph, there are less than 600 Indian students in Sumy and not 800 as estimated earlier. “My top priority is mentally preparing the students to stay here for a week. The evacuation can begin any time but due to the mental state of students, I am trying to convince them for the long haul,” Joseph told The Indian Express.

In Sumy, scared and weary after 10 days of waiting, Indian students posted a video clip on Saturday, announcing that they had decided to risk the walk to the Russian border. But within hours, the government responded, asking them to remain inside shelters and assuring them that they will soon be evacuated.

Joseph said the Ukrainians have been providing them with water supply for two hours every day. “The food supply, though less, will suffice for the next two-three days. Electricity is provided during the day but is cut for several hours as per the security requirements of Ukrainian authorities,” he said.

“The railway line has been damaged and roads are filled with army men, so evacuation from the western borders of Ukraine is very difficult. The Russian border is nearby but there is uncertainty over whether the Ukrainians will allow students to pass through that side,” he said.

India has also sent six tranches of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including one weighing six tonnes that was dispatched on an IAF flight to Poland on Sunday.



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