The government today advised Indian nationals to immediately leave Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city where intense fighting is reportedly going on between Ukrainian and Russian forces.
“Urgent advisory to all Indian nationals in Kharkiv: For their safety and security, they must leave Kharkiv immediately. Proceed to Pesochin, Babaye and Bezlyudovka as soon as possible. Under all circumstances, they must reach these settlements by 1800 hrs. Ukrainian Time (2130 hrs IST) today,” the Indian Embassy in Ukraine said in its fresh advisory.
India has established contacts with all the neighbouring countries of Ukraine to facilitate the evacuation of Indian nationals from the war-hit country. Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was constantly monitoring the situation. He has told External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and other senior ministers to ensure that all Indian nationals were evacuated safely.
Back home, the death of an Indian medical student in shelling in Ukraine yesterday has triggered sharp criticism of the government’s handling of the evacuation exercise. Opposition parties are questioning why ”Operation Ganga” was delayed when there were clear indications of Russia attacking Ukraine.
In a press briefing on Operation Ganga, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi the Indians in Kharkiv must leave by 1800 Hrs. He said this advisory was based on the information received from Russian sources. Heavy shelling was expected tonight in Kharkiv. Many Indian students have reportedly managed to board the trains bound for eastern Ukrainian border.
He said 15 flights have brought 3351 stranded Indians back home so far. Fifteen more flights are expected to land in the next 24 hours. So far 17,000 Indians have safely left Ukraine to the bordering countries of Slovakia, Belarus, Moldova, Hungary and Poland.
The Indian Air Force is now actively involved in the Operation Ganga and its C-17 planes have been pressed into service. The Indian government so far has sent 16 tonnes of relief supply including food, medicines, blankets, lamps etc.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had yesterday called in the ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine and asked them to see that Indian students were given a safe passage to Ukraine’s border.
According to Russian Ambassador-designate to India, Denis Alipov, India has requested Russia for the emergency evacuation of its citizens stranded in Ukraine through Russian territory. He said Russia was in touch with the Indian authorities concerning the evacuation of Indian nationals stranded in Kharkiv and other areas of eastern Ukraine. “We have received India’s requests for emergency evacuation of all those stranded there through the Russian territory. We are actively working on all ways and means to launch such an operation and provide a humanitarian corridor for evacuation of the people there,” he stated.
Four Union ministers–Jyotiraditya Scindia, Hardeep Puri, Kiren Rijiju, and Gen (Retd.) VK Singh– are overseeing the evacuation exercise named “Operation Ganga”.