New Delhi, March 7: Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, who was in Hungary to oversee the evacuation process of Indian citizens stranded due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, returned to New Delhi with the last batch of students from Budapest on Monday morning.
“Delighted to reach Delhi with the last batch of our 6711 students from Budapest. There is joy, enthusiasm & relief as youngsters reach home & will soon be with their parents & families. Deeply privileged to be of help,” tweeted Puri after returning home.
“The 6E aircraft which flew us to Budapest on 1 March later returned as the 5th evacuation flight with our students. Last night we boarded the 31st evacuation flight for Delhi with our students,” the minister added.
Till Sunday afternoon, India had operated 63 flights under Operation Ganga, bringing back approximately 13,300 people since hostilities broke out between the two countries.
From Sunday night till Monday evening, 13 more flights have been scheduled – including one by an Indian Air Force C-17 aircraft – from Kosice, Rzeszow, Bucharest and Budapest.
According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), since India’s first advisory last month, more than 21,000 of its citizens have moved out of Ukraine, 4,000 of them before the start of the Russian military operation on February 24.
Not many Indians are left in Ukraine now, except for Sumy in the eastern part of the country which is witnessing some intense fighting.
Buses organised by the Indian embassy have been bringing the Indian students out of Pisochyn in the Kharkiv area to the Polish and Romanian border from Lviv.
The main focus, the MEA says, is now on Sumy in the northeast on the border with Russia as the Indian authorities continue to explore multiple options for evacuating its citizens out of there.
“Let me reiterate the main challenge remains the ongoing shelling there, the ongoing violence there and the lack of transportation primarily, but even more than transportation I think it’s a problem of having a secure and safe way to get them out while they’re not under threat,” said Arindam Bagchi, the MEA spokesperson on Sunday.
India had been strongly pressing both the Russian and the Ukrainian sides to allow a local ceasefire, just to get a corridor for the students.
“Team from Embassy of India is stationed in Poltava City to coordinate the safe passage of Indian students stranded in Sumy to Western borders via Poltava. Confirmed time & date will be issued soon. Indian students advised to be ready to leave on short notice. Be safe, be strong,” tweeted the Indian embassy in Ukraine on Sunday night.
Indian authorities estimate about 700 of its citizens are still stuck in Sumy.
“The good thing in Sumy is, of course that they’re concentrated, they are together in one or two locations. So it should be a little easier to pick them up rather than scattered across the city,” the MEA spokesperson said.
Even though evacuating them from the east through the Russian border remains a quick option being closest in terms of distance, it would involve crossing two frontlines on the Ukraine and Russian side.
“Ceasefire is not an easy thing to implement. It’s between two countries; they will have to do it. We can only request both the countries to do something as soon as possible, if not complete ceasefire, then at least do some local ceasefire,” commented the MEA spokesperson.
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