India is expected to end the evacuation exercise — Operation Ganga — on Thursday, an official has said urging the few remaining Indians to opt for the last flights out of Ukraine.
Soon after the announcement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban to thank him for facilitating the smooth transfer of Indian nationals through the Ukraine-Hungary border and for hosting them.
Operation Ganga was launched to evacuate Indian nationals days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24. Till Tuesday, around 17100 Indians had been brought back on 83 flights. During the operation, buses and trains brought Indians to the western borders of Ukraine and they were flown back to India via locations like Bucharest, Budapest, Suceava and Warsaw.
The focus of the operation quickly evolved to save the large number of Indian students who were enrolled in the medical universities located in capital Kyiv, and other educational centres like Kharkiv, Sumy and Lviv. The difficulty in evacuating students from Kharkiv and Sumy prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call Russian President Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also maintained communication with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on the safety of the Indians who were caught in a "live conflict zone".
Apart from the students and professionals, three batches of Indian sailors have also been evacuated from the port of Odessa, an official said.
"Prime Minister Orban conveyed his best wishes to the Indian medical students evacuated from Ukraine, and said they could choose to continue their studies in Hungary if they wished," said a Government press release. The last batch of students were shifted early Wednesday morning in a convoy of buses from Sumy, which was the focus of a strong military push by the Russian side. The students are expected to fly home by Thursday.
The dedicated flights which flew out Indians from Ukraine free of cost, along with some nationals of Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and at least one Pakistani student, was necessary as Ukraine shut its airspace after President Vladimir Putin ordered a "special military operation" . Under Operation Ganga, the Embassy of India in Kyiv was supported by the Indian missions in Hungary, Romania, Poland and the Slovak Republic.
Additional Indian diplomatic staff for supporting the Indian missions in the region were rushed from Israel, Turkey, Russia and the headquarters here. All the frontline missions were also aided by Russian-speaking officials from India. A Joint Secretary-level officer was deputed to coordinate with all the missions and personnel on the ground in Ukraine.
22,000 have returned
According to the Minister for External Affairs, around 22,000 Indian nationals who were studying or employed in Ukraine have returned since military tension escalated in January. The operation was supervised by the control rooms in MEA as well as in Indian embassies in East Europe. According to the latest estimate, MEA Control Room attended to 12582 calls and 9131 emails from individuals who were stranded in Ukraine.
In response to a question on the presence of Indians among those fighting Russian forces in Ukraine, an official said Indians have been urged not to travel to Ukraine in view of the military conflict, indicating that individuals may be held accountable for their actions.