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Safety, evacuation of all citizens is govt’s top priority, says India

By, New Delhi
Feb 25, 2022 06:28 AM IST

The Indian embassy in Kyiv issued three advisories during the day, urging Indians to remain safe in view of the “highly uncertain” situation and to avoid travel.

The safety and evacuation of some 16,000 nationals became India’s immediate priority following the launch of a Russian military operation against Ukraine on Thursday, with authorities turning to alternative routes following the closure of Ukrainian airspace.

One special aircraft has already brought back some Indians on Wednesday but an evacuation flight of Air India had to return mid-air as the Ukrainian airspace was shut down on Thursday. (PTI PHOTO.)
One special aircraft has already brought back some Indians on Wednesday but an evacuation flight of Air India had to return mid-air as the Ukrainian airspace was shut down on Thursday. (PTI PHOTO.)

The Indian embassy in Kyiv issued three advisories during the day, urging Indians to remain safe in view of the “highly uncertain” situation and to avoid travel. It said alternative arrangements were being made for evacuation, and asked those in areas facing air raids or shelling to seek out bomb shelters.

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Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia were among the alternative evacuation routes identified by Indian authorities and two of the embassy’s advisories referred to the option of Indian nationals moving to the western border regions of Ukraine to leave the country.

The Indian embassy in Hungary sent a team to the border post at Zohanyi to assist the exit of Indians from Ukraine, and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla told a media briefing that three more teams would go to border regions of Poland, Slovakia and Romania. Some Indian officials from these four countries will also go across the border and set up camp offices at places such as Lviv and Chernivtsi in Ukraine to help Indians.

Close to 20,000 Indian nationals had registered with the Indian embassy in Kyiv over the past month, and 4,000 had left Ukraine in recent weeks, Shringla said. He added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security on Thursday evening that the government’s topmost priority is the safety and security of all Indian nationals and their evacuation.

The Indian side was also working on complex issues related to evacuation through other countries, such as transport to the border, visas and vaccination certificates, people familiar with the matter said. The control room at the external affairs ministry in New Delhi was expanded and made operational round the clock. It handled 980 calls and 850 emails on Thursday alone.

Additional Russian-speaking officials had been sent to the embassy in Kyiv and more were being deployed in the countries neighbouring Ukraine. The Indian Air Force has been placed on standby for carrying out evacuation flights, the people said.

The closure of Kyiv airport and Ukrainian airspace shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised the military operation in support of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine forced a special Air India flight, which was to bring back around 250 Indians from Kyiv, to turn around in Iranian airspace.

India’s focus is on the safety and security of its nationals, especially the students. The students had earlier been asked to come to Kyiv from different parts of Ukraine to take special flights by Air India or flights by other carriers. Scores of students who were suddenly stranded after the closure of Ukrainian airspace gathered at the embassy to seek help.

More than 200 students were subsequently accommodated at schools near the embassy, and the Indian ambassador, Partha Satpathy, interacted with them. The people cited above said no Indians were stranded outside the embassy and all students arriving in Kyiv from other locations were being moved to safe premises.

The first advisory from the Indian embassy, issued shortly after the attacks by Russian forces began, described the situation in Ukraine as “highly uncertain” and asked Indian nationals to “maintain calm and remain safe wherever you are, be it in your homes, hostels, accommodations or in transit”.

Ukrainian State Air Traffic Services Enterprise said on its website that the airspace was closed to civilian flights “due to the high risk of aviation safety for civil aviation”. Eurocontrol, which manages air traffic in Europe, too said Ukraine’s airspace was closed to civilian aircraft because of military restrictions.

Satpathy also issued a message asking Indian nationals to stay calm and “face the situation with fortitude” while efforts are made to find a solution to their problems. His message also conveyed the impact of the Russian military operation. “Today early morning, we all woke up with the news that Ukraine is under attack…The airspace is closed, railway schedules are in flux and roads are crammed,” he said.

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