Over 20,000 Indians leave Ukraine, New Delhi calls for a ceasefire to evacuate citizens

New Delhi: “The evacuation would look difficult without a ceasefire,” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs and called for a ceasefire between fighting troops of Russia and Ukraine to help evacuate stranded Indians. 

“We urge the parties concerned- Ukraine and Russia, to have a local ceasefire at least so that we can evacuate our people and students,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told reporters on Friday (March 4) evening during a special briefing.

“Ideally, we would need to have (a) local ceasefire or something of that kind,” Bagchi said. He said it would be difficult to move people out without a truce because of the shelling and fighting. “We don’t want the students to cross through a place where they are at risk. Anything can happen in a war zone, so we always want a safe route for our students,” he said. 

He said India has thus told both sides publicly that there should be a local ceasefire to get students out.  Officials say they managed to get dozens of students out of Pisochyn in five buses on Thursday and Friday, and they were taken to Lviv and the Moldovan border.

India wants to pull out nearly 3,000 of its citizens and students, especially from the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Sumy, where movement is impossible because of shelling and intense fighting.

The MEA spokesperson said over 20,000 Indians had left the Ukraine border since advisories were issued.  “There are more people, but it’s reassuring to see that this many people have left Ukraine,” he added.

Meanwhile, government sources said 48 flights under Operation Ganga have landed in India, out of which 18 flights landed between Thursday and Friday (24 hours). The total number of Indians who returned onboard these 18 flights is around 4000. 

In terms of departure points, there’ll be five flights each from Budapest, four from Suceava in România, three from Rzeszow in Poland and one each from Warsaw, Bratislava, Bucharest and Kosice in Slovakia. Sixteen flights have been scheduled between Friday evening and Saturday, including Indian Air Force’s C-17 aircraft. 

Though Russian media reports suggested Russian authorities had arranged 130 buses to take Indians from Kharkiv and Sumy to the Russian town of Belgorod, MEA spokesperson Bagchi said these vehicles were 50 to 60 km away from where the students are sheltering. 

“We don’t see a safe and secure way to reach (the buses). I would appeal and urge the parties concerned to have a local ceasefire so that we can go to those buses…,” he said.

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