India on Saturday evacuated its stranded citizens from Ukraine through Romania and Hungary in what’s being called ‘Operation Ganga’. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that he was “personally monitoring” the situation. The risky evacuation is taking place in the midst of a war, which an Indian professional, currently stranded in an underground bunker in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, described as “hell”.
Air India's first evacuation flight from Romania landed in Mumbai at 7.50 p.m. A second flight from Romania with 250 Indian nationals on board is expected to land in Delhi in the early hours of Sunday. Air India is also operating a flight from Hungary.
"Our teams are working on the ground round the clock. I am personally monitoring. The first flight to Mumbai with 219 Indian nationals has taken off from Romania," Mr. Jaishankar said earlier in the day.
The passengers were welcomed in Mumbai by Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, who assured that the government is working "relentlessly" to ensure the safety of Indians in Ukraine.
Indian citizens entered Hungary from the Ukrainian side at the Zahony crossing and reached Budapest for the Air India flight. A batch of Indian students also entered Hungary from the Ukrainian side at the Zahony crossing, travelling onward to Budapest for their return to India by an Air India flight today, the Indian embassy in Hungary tweeted on Saturday.
A liaison unit has been set up by the Indian Embassy in Ukraine, which is bringing stranded Indians in batches through the checkpoint at Zahony. Indians were advised to not use other checkpoints to enter Budapest as there were long queues and no Indian embassy unit was present there to facilitate entry.
The Indian embassy in Ukraine also said: “Some more travel options other than Air India on commercial flights out of Budapest may become available.” Air India’s flights are chartered by the government.
Software professional in Kyiv, Baroon Varma, who’s stranded along with his wife and two young daughters, said that hundreds of people were living in underground bomb shelters. In an online conversation with The Hindu, he said that Indian families were in contact with each other even as the bombing continued outside.
Mr. Varma painted a grim picture of the unfolding Russian attack, and said that missile and rocket attacks were taking place at a short distance from their shelter. "I came out to check at 2 a.m. and it was hell outside," he said.
The situation is fast going out of control as the Government of Ukraine has distributed thousands of small arms and automatic weapons to citizens, urging them to fight against the invading Russians.
Mr. Varma said that a big apartment building full of civilians was hit by a rocket in close proximity to where he was, and Kyiv’s city administration had put out an advisory asking everyone to stay indoors. Despite the heavy bombing, public utilities like electricity and Internet connections had so far remained unaffected, he said.
The Ukrainian government said that Russian forces were carrying out attacks from multiple directions and had focused on Kyiv, Chernigiv, Sumy, Hluhiv, Kharkiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzya.
In Delhi, many gathered outside the Embassy of Ukraine to pay their tributes to those killed in the country in the war with Russia.