As fighting escalated in Ukraine, especially its second-largest city Kharkiv, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin reviewed the situation in the war ravaged nation which India has asked its nationals to leave “immediately”, an official statement said on Wednesday night.
The two leaders discussed the safe evacuation of Indian nationals from the conflict areas.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on phone today with Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation. The leaders reviewed the situation in Ukraine, especially in the city of Kharkiv where many Indian students are stuck,” the statement said.
“They discussed the safe evacuation of the Indian nationals from the conflict areas,” it added.
Earlier in the day, India asked its nationals to leave Kharkiv urgently to three nearby places “even on foot”, while Russia promised to create “humanitarian corridors” for evacuation of Indians from the conflict zones.
Prime Minister Modi held yet another high-level meeting on Wednesday night on the Ukraine crisis as the four union ministers sent to Ukraine’s neighbouring countries coordinated the stepped-up rescue efforts with the deployment of planes by the Indian Air Force.
In an urgent advisory, the Indian embassy in Ukraine asked the Indians to reach the Ukrainian towns of Pesochyn, 11 km away from Kharkiv, Babai (12 km) and Bezlyudivka (16 km) by 6 PM local time (9:30 PM IST).
The advisory came as Russia stepped up attacks on key Ukrainian cities and a day after an Indian medical student died in shelling in Kharkiv.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at a media briefing that the Indian embassy asked the nationals to leave Kharkiv immediately on the basis of information from the Russian side.
“The students who cannot find vehicles or buses and are in Railway station can proceed on foot to Pesochyn, Babai and Bezlydivka,” the advisory, second of the day, said “Proceed immediately. Under all circumstances, Indians must reach these settlements by 1800 hours (Ukrainian time) today,” it said.
It is learnt that the Russian side informed India about the possible increase in intensity in fighting in Kharkiv and suggested that all Indians should leave the city.
While the first advisory was put out on Twitter at around 1:40 PM ( 5 PM IST) the second was issued at around 2:40 PM (6 PM IST).
Bagchi said India is also exploring the option of reaching the eastern part of Ukraine to help in the evacuation of Indian nationals but added that it’s not easy as the route is not open at all times.
Separately, Russian Ambassador-designate Denis Alipov said his country is working “intensely” to create a “humanitarian corridor” for safe passage to Russian territory of Indians stuck in Kharkiv, Sumy and other conflict zones in Ukraine.
“We have received an Indian request for the emergency evacuation of all those stuck there (Ukraine) to the Russian territory and we are now actively working on the ways and means to launch an operation to provide the humanitarian corridors so that people have the secure passage to safety to the Russian territory,” he said.
Alipov said Russia is in touch with Indian authorities on the issue of Indians stuck in Kharkiv, Sumy and in the areas northeast of Ukraine which are witnessing intense conflict.
He hoped that the humanitarian corridors will be put in place “as soon as possible”.
As India shored up efforts to evacuate its citizens, four C-17 17 Globemaster aircraft of the Indian Air Force with approximately 800 evacuees from Ukraine are slated to land at the Hindon airbase on Thursday, sources said.
On Wednesday morning, a C-17 aircraft left for Romania carrying humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
At the media briefing, Bagchi said the cities in eastern Ukraine remained areas of concern and that some Indian students were able to board trains out of Kharkiv yesterday night and this morning.
“We have been in communication with the Russians regarding the safe passage of our nationals from Kharkiv and other nearby cities,” he said He said that there has been a sharp increase in the number of Indians who have left Ukraine over the recent past.
“We now estimate that nearly 17,000 Indian nationals have left Ukraine’s borders since our advisories were issued. This of course includes some Indians who had not registered with the embassy earlier,” Bagchi said.
Earlier, the MEA had said that 20,000 Indians were in Ukraine when India had issued the first advisory in mid-February when the tension between Russia and Ukraine started building up.
About the evacuation mission, Bagchi said flights under ‘Operation Ganga’ have increased sharply and that six flights have landed in India in the last 24 hours taking the total to 15.
He said the total number of Indians who have returned on board these flights is 3,352. Out of these, 1,796 were evacuated through Romania, 430 through Poland and 1126 through Hungary.
Prime Minister Modi has held a series of meetings since Sunday to spearhead India’s efforts to safely bring back its nationals, asserting that this is his government’s top priority.
Union Ministers Hardeep Singh Puri, Kiren Rijiju, Jyotiraditya Scindia and V K Singh were in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Poland respectively to coordinate evacuation efforts.
The ministers posted pictures on Twitter in which they were seen interacting and assisting the students who had crossed over from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, an Indian national, identified as Chandan Jindal, died in Ukraine due to natural causes. He was in hospital for the last few days after suffering an ischemic stroke.
Jindal was admitted at the Emergency Hospital Vinnytsia in Ukraine, official sources here said.
His family has requested the government to bring back his mortal remains.
Jindal was studying at Vinnytsia National Pirogov Memorial Medical University, Vinnytsia.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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