Amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday evening. This was the second conversation between the two leaders in the last seven days. Mr. Modi spoke to President Putin hours after the Indian embassy in Ukraine issued an "urgent advisory" for all Indian nationals in the war-torn eastern city of Kharkiv and urged them to leave by early evening. Before that, the newly appointed ambassador of Russia to India assured that Moscow is considering a humanitarian corridor for foreign nationals stuck in Kharkiv as the Russian forces continue an intense military campaign in the area.
"The leaders reviewed the situation in Ukraine, especially in the city of Kharkiv, where many Indian students are stuck. They discussed the safe evacuation of the Indian nationals from the conflict areas," a government release stated. Mr. Modi had spoken to Mr. Putin on February 24 when he had sought "immediate cessation of violence". That was followed by a conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine when Mr. Modi sought a similar ceasefire.
The advisory from the Indian embassy in Kyiv asked citizens to proceed to the nearby destinations of Pisochyn, Babay and Bezliudivka “as soon as possible”. The tone of the advisory, which asked Indians to reach the destinations “under all circumstances”, indicates the level of the current military situation in Kharkiv city and its suburbs. India has been conducting ‘Operation Ganga’ to evacuate its nationals stuck in Ukraine ever since the Russian campaign began on February 24. But the most challenging part of the evacuation lies in the eastern part of Ukraine in cities like Sumy and Kharkiv where a large number of Indians are stranded in the midst of a live military conflict.
While Indian officials are working from Belgorod which is located near Kharkiv, concerns remain about a similar exit route for the Indians in Sumy. Indian students in Sumy told The Hindu that it is better for them to be evacuated to the Russian city of Kursk, which is located around 130 km from Sumy.
Russian ambassador Denis Alipov said Moscow was in consultation with India and was doing "everything possible" to keep decisionmakers here informed about the developments in the conflict areas. "We are in touch with the Indian authorities as regards to the citizens in Kharkiv, Sumy in the northeast of Ukraine where the friction is going on. We have received the Indian request for the emergency evacuation of all those stuck there to the Russian territory. We are now actively working on the ways and means to launch an operation to provide a humanitarian corridor for a secure passage to the Russian territory," said Mr. Alipov at a press conference.
The Ministry of External Affairs said 17,000 Indian nationals had left Ukraine since the initial advisories were issued. Flights under Operation Ganga have been increased, taking the total number of flights to 15 till Wednesday. While negotiating with Russia to evacuate its citizens, India also began supplying humanitarian items to Ukraine.
Help to Ukraine
The Indian Air Force was pressed into the operation starting with Tuesday when a C-17 aircraft took off from the Hindon airbase carrying humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. The humanitarian consignment consisted of medical equipment, tents, blankets, solar lamps and other household items that are urgently required in Ukraine. The first round of consignment consisting of two tonnes of medicines was sent through Poland and two more tranches consisting of similar items were sent on Wednesday through Romania and Poland.
Deployment of the C17 aircraft is expected to scale up the evacuation in the next few days. Four Indian Air Force C17 aircraft with approximately 800 evacuees are expected to land at the Hindon airbase between late Wednesday night and early morning of Thursday. Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt is scheduled to be present during the arrival of the evacuees.
Officials said that during March 2 and 3, 15 more Air India flights are scheduled to fly out Indians from Bucharest in Romania, Budapest in Hungary, Kosice in Slovakia, and Rzeszow in Poland. The evacuation is being handled through the control centres operated by the Indian embassies in Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovak Republic. The crisis cell in the Ministry of External Affairs is providing coordination and directives to the operation.