New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) has kept two IL-76 military transport aircraft on standby to evacuate Indians who are stranded in conflict-hit eastern Ukrainian cities like Sumy and Kharkiv from Russian capital Moscow, officials said on Friday.

As the Indians stranded in eastern Ukranian cities, where the fighting is the heaviest, cannot move to the western border of Ukraine, the IAF is planning to evacuate them from Moscow with the help of Russian military forces, the officials noted.

Till now, India has been evacuating its citizens from Ukraine’s western neighbours such as Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary as the Ukranian airspace has remained shut since February 24, when the Russian military offensive began.

Two IL-76 aircraft — which are of Russian origin — have been kept on standby so that they can immediately depart for Moscow and evacuate Indians, the officials added.

Till date, the IAF has evacuated a total of 1,428 Indians on seven flights from Ukraine’s western neighbouring countries. These seven flights were operated through US-origin C-17 planes.

India on Thursday said it was primarily focusing on the evacuation of its nationals from the besieged city of Kharkiv and other conflict zones in eastern Ukraine amid increasing Russian military offensive in the region.

At a media briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said around 1,000 Indians reached Pisochyn from Kharkiv following the urgent advisory issued by the Indian embassy in Ukraine on Wednesday.

“We estimate that a few hundred people still remain in Kharkiv despite our advisory,” Bagchi said, adding that “unfortunately” there has been a fresh outbreak of violence in the city on Thursday.

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