Russia says its buses ready to evacuate Indian students, foreigners from Ukraine

New Delhi: India on Tuesday “strongly and emphatically” asked Ukraine and Russia to create “urgent safe passages” for the Indian nationals stuck in various conflict zones in Ukraine, after a medical student from Karnataka was killed in intense shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

At a media briefing, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said all Indian nationals left Kyiv on Tuesday after the Indian embassy issued an advisory, asking them to get out of the Ukrainian capital urgently.

It is learnt that most of the officials of the Indian embassy in Kyiv also moved to Lviv in western Ukraine and other locations to help Indians exit the country, but the mission has not been shut down.

Shringla said an embassy office in Ukraine is being set up in Lviv to assist Indian citizens exit Ukraine.

After attending a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation in Ukraine, Shringla said at the briefing that the evacuation of Indians from Kharkiv is now India’s top priority.

“We have absolutely, strongly and emphatically asked them (the Russian and Ukrainian envoys) to create the safe passage. But there is a war going on and we will have to make the best of the situation so that we can find a way,” he said.

“I think our interlocutors both in Ukraine and Russia understand that and we will try and continue to press them to enable us to withdraw and evacuate our citizens,” he added.

Shringla said a team of Indian officials reached Belgorod, which is not far from Kharkiv, and it will examine all options of taking out the stranded Indians from the conflict zones.

He said over the next three days, 26 flights have been scheduled to bring out the Indian citizens, adding that airports in Poland and the Slovak Republic will also be used, apart from those in Bucharest and Budapest.

The foreign secretary said a C-17 aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is expected to fly out at 4 am on Wednesday to Romania to repatriate the Indian citizens.

He said more IAF aircraft could be used in the evacuation mission in the next few days.

Shringla referred to his comments a few days ago that an estimated 20,000 Indians were in Ukraine at the time India issued its first advisory. The first advisory was issued over a fortnight ago, when the tensions between Russia and Ukraine were increasing.

“This is the general number of people in Ukraine. From that number, approximately 12,000 have since left Ukraine, which is 60 per cent of the total number of our citizens in Ukraine,” the foreign secretary said.

Roughly a half of the remaining 40 per cent remained in the conflict zones in Kharkiv and Sumy and the other half have either reached the western borders of Ukraine or are heading towards the western parts of the country, he added.

“In other words, they are out of the conflict areas,” Shringla said.

The foreign secretary said around 2,000 Indians have returned to their homeland, while 4,000 to 5,000 are getting ready to be brought back by flights.

To a question on whether Indians are facing difficulties in getting out of Ukraine, he said there is “no endeavour to block our citizens from coming out”.

“I think the issue is logistical. There are huge queues of people, there are lines of vehicles,” he added.

Shringla said all Indian nationals have left Kyiv. The Ukrainian capital also witnessed bombings and shellings by Russian forces.

“The information with us is that we have no more nationals left in Kyiv. Nobody has contacted us from Kyiv. All our inquiries have revealed that each and every one of our nationals has come out of Kyiv,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the Indian embassy in Ukraine asked all the Indians stranded in Kyiv to leave the Ukrainian capital urgently by trains or any other means of transport.

The foreign secretary said a flight carrying the first tranche of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine left India on Tuesday morning.

He said the consignment comprised medicines, medical equipment and other relief materials.

“Another flight will carry the second consignment also through Poland tomorrow,” he added.

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