Cap on Ukraine flights eased amid Russian troop build-up

Updated on Feb 18, 2022 01:25 AM IST

Indian authorities have been in talks with various airlines on increasing the number of flights from Ukraine to India to facilitate the return of Indian citizens

US paratroopers in Poland as part of a deployment in response to tensions with Russia. (AFP)
US paratroopers in Poland as part of a deployment in response to tensions with Russia. (AFP)
ByNeha LM Tripathi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

India on Thursday removed restrictions on the number of flights between India and Ukraine as well as the availability of seats on them under an air bubble agreement between the two countries amid tensions in the eastern European nation over a Russian troop build-up.

“Any number of flights as well as charter flights can operate. Indian airlines have been informed to mount the flights due to [an] increase in demand,” the ministry of civil aviation said in a statement on Thursday.

Indian authorities have been in talks with airlines on increasing the number of flights from Ukraine to facilitate the return of Indians wanting to leave the country because of the tensions.

People familiar with the development said the civil aviation ministry is facilitating the additional flights in coordination with the ministry of external affairs (MEA).

The government has also removed the cap on the number of seats to 440 per flight.

The MEA has set up control rooms in the Indian embassy in Kyiv and in New Delhi. The Indian embassy in Kyiv has also set up a 24-hour helpline to provide information and assistance to Indian nationals in Ukraine.

The embassy on Tuesday advised Indian citizens, especially the students, to temporarily leave that country in view of the uncertainties of the current situation. It also asked Indian nationals to avoid all non-essential travel to and within Ukraine.

Separately, the embassy said it has been receiving calls about the non-availability of flights from Ukraine to India and advised Indians not to panic, but book the earliest available and convenient flights to travel home.

“The embassy of India has been receiving several appeals about non-availability of flights from Ukraine to India. In this regard, students are advised not to resort to panic, but book the earliest available and convenient flights to travel to India,” it said in a statement.

Under the travel bubble agreements, which were necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic when international travel was suspended, Ukraine International Airlines operates flights on the Kyiv-Delhi route. The other options albeit expensive include flights via Dubai, Sharjah, Doha, Almaty, and Frankfurt.

Over 20,000 Indians, including businessmen and nearly 18,000 students, live in Ukraine. Some students have expressed concerns that all flights to India were fully booked till next week. They have also flagged concerns regarding airfares going up amid tensed situations in Ukraine.

“To meet the additional demand, more flights are being planned in the near future, including from Ukrainian International Airlines, Air India, etc. Details on the same would be shared by Embassy as and when confirmed,” the embassy said.

The embassy issued the advisory amid escalating tension between Moscow and the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries over Russia’s increasing military build-up close to the Ukrainian border.

The US has already sent extra troops to Europe to support its allies in the backdrop of fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia has positioned around 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine besides sending warships into the Black Sea for naval exercises, triggering concerns among the NATO countries about a potential invasion of Ukraine.

Though Russia has denied plans to invade Ukraine and withdrew some of its forces from the border on Tuesday, the tensions remained high amid one of the most intense military stand-offs in Europe in decades.

India has not publicly spoken out against Russia’s actions along the border with Ukraine in view of the close strategic ties between New Delhi and Moscow. It has opposed all steps that increase tension in Ukraine and called for quiet diplomacy to ensure immediate de-escalation while ensuring the “legitimate security interests of all countries”.

With agency inputs

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