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26 flights in three days – India accelerates operation to bring home stranded citizens from Ukraine

India continues to make every effort to make sure that its citizens come out of Ukraine speedily and with minimum inconvenience (All images courtesy: MEA and ANI)

Taking the Indian Air Force on board, India on Wednesday massively intensified efforts to bring out its citizens from the conflict zone in Ukraine with as many as 26 evacuation flights planned out of Bucharest, Budapest, airports in Poland and the Slovak Republic over the next three days.

Joining Air India, Air India Express, IndiGo and SpiceJet in mission 'Operation Ganga', the IAF sent its first C-17 aircraft to Romania at 4 am today to repatriate the stranded Indian citizens there.

Two more long-haul military transport aircraft of the IAF took off from the Hindon air base this morning for Bucharest and Budapest, carrying along with them tonnes of humanitarian aid for Ukraine at the request of the Ukrainian government.  

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Another C-17 Globemaster is expected to leave for the Rzeszow–Jasionka airport in south-eastern Poland later in the day carrying more tranche of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and also bring back the Indian nationals who have reached there through various border crossings. 

After having successfully brought out more than 12,000 of the estimated 20,000 Indian students in Ukraine till now, New Delhi's top priority now is to evacuate the remaining 40 per cent – half of them in conflict zone in the Kharkiv-Sumy area of eastern Ukraine ravaged by intense fighting between the Russian and Ukrainian forces. 

The other half, revealed India's Ministry of External Affairs, have either reached the western borders of Ukraine or are heading out of the conflict areas towards the western borders of Ukraine.

It was in Kharkiv that an Indian student Naveen Shekharappa Gyanagoudar, studying in the Kharkiv National Medical University, had lost his life during shelling on Tuesday morning.  

A team of officers from the Indian embassy in Moscow is already camping in the border region of Russia, adjoining Ukraine, to ensure an urgent safe passage for all Indian nationals who are still in Kharkiv.

"This team is currently in a city called Belgorod, which is not far from Kharkiv. The function of the team is to examine all the options in terms of, you know, root out accommodation for our people, the transportation options, essentially, this team is in place and ready to see whatever we can do to extract our students and citizens from the Kharkiv, Sumy area," said Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday night.

With all the Indian citizens leaving Ukrainian capital Kiev on Tuesday, the MEA said that another 1400 Indians in the southern town of Zaporizhzhia, which is also in an expanding conflict zone, have also departed and moved towards the western borders of Ukraine.

Another 400 Indian students have crossed through into Moldova and are at shelters arranged by the Indian government in Chisinau – the capital and largest city of the Republic of Moldova – before moving further to Bucharest.

India has also set up an embassy office in Lviv – a city in western Ukraine, approximately 70 kilometers from the border with Poland – to facilitate and assist its citizens who are trying to exit Ukraine into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

The Embassy of India in Warsaw also issued an advisory earlier today asking them to avoid the congested Shehyni-Medyka border crossing and instead requested Indians in Lviv and Ternopil and other places in western Ukraine to travel at the earliest to Budomierz border check-point for a relatively quick entry into Poland.

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After having sent his four senior cabinet ministers as special envoys to Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova, Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to personally monitor the evacuation efforts, chairing yet another high-level meeting Tuesday night.

The government has reiterated that it is reaching out diplomatically to all concerned to ensure the safety and security and protection of Indian citizens in Ukraine after having examined every possible option.

With PM Modi speaking to the Presidents of Slovakia, Romania, Poland, and also Ukraine earlier, New Delhi continues to make every effort to make sure that Indian citizens come out of Ukraine speedily and with minimum inconvenience.

"It is a fluid situation, we have absolutely strongly and emphatically asked them to create this safe passage but there is a war going on and we will have to make the best of a situation that we can, you know, find a way. I think that our interlocutors, both in Russia and Ukraine understand that and we will try and continue to press them to enable us to withdraw and evacuate our citizens in good order," said Shringla.

Also Read: Leave Kyiv urgently, India tells its citizens as IAF's C-17 planes gear up to join Operation Ganga