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Despite challenges, ensured 22,000 citizens return safely: Jaishankar on Ukraine evacuation

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New Delhi, Mar 15: Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing Russia Ukraine conflict, the Indian government ensured that about 22,500 citizens have returned home safely, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar informed Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

Jaishankar

"Pertinent to note that hostilities placed the Indian community of 20,000 plus in direct danger. Even while we were participating in global deliberations of this evolving situation in UNSC, pressing challenge was to safeguard our citizens and ensure that they were nor in harm's way," he said.

Elaborating on the Ukraine evacuation plan, Jaishankar said "At the direction of the PM, we launched Operation Ganga, thereby undertaking one of the most challenging evacuation exercises during an ongoing conflict situation. Our community was dispersed across Ukraine, posing its own logistical challenges."

"The exercise was undertaken at a time when military actions, incl airstrikes and shelling, were underway. It involved movement in a war-torn situation in a large country, at times over a 1000 kms & required exiting border checkpoints clogged by an estimated 26 lakh refugees," he said.

"Entire exercise involved a whole of Govt approach, with PM himself chairing review meetings almost on a daily basis. At MEA, we monitored evacuation ops on a 24/7 basis. We got excellent support from all concerned ministries and organisations including MoCA, Defence, NDRF, IAF and private airlines," the foreign minister said.

"As tensions increased, Indian Embassy in Ukraine started a registration drive for Indians in Jan 2022. As a result, around 20,000 Indians registered. Most Indian nationals were students pursuing medical studies in Ukrainian universities dispersed throughout the country," he said.

"More than half the students were in universities in eastern Ukraine that borders Russia ANDhas been epicentre of conflict so far. Students hail from 35 states/UTs of India with over 1000 students each from Kerala, UP, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar & Rajasthan," Jaishankar noted.

"In view of continued buildup of tensions in Feb, Embassy issued an advisory on 15 Feb 2022, advising Indians in Ukraine whose stay isn't essential to leave country temporarily. It also advised Indians not to travel to Ukraine or undertake non-essential movements within Ukraine," the union minister said.

"Further advisories were also given on 20th & 22nd Feb. Air bubble instructions then imposed were immediately lifted in consultation with Ukrainian side to increase number of direct flights. Around 4000 Indians departed from Ukraine by direct/indirect flights till 23rd Feb," he elaborated.

"Despite our efforts, however, a large majority of students elected to continue staying in Ukraine. There was a natural reluctance to leave educational institutions and affect their studies. Some universities actively discouraged & showed reluctance to offer online courses," he added.

Under Operation Ganga, 90 flights have been operated out of which 76 were civilian flights and 14 were IAF flights. The evacuation flights were from Romania, Poland, Hungary & Slovakia.

While IAF rose to the occasion, most of the private airlines also participated enthusiastically.

PM spoke to Pres of Russia and Ukraine on multiple occasions. He took up issue of safe evacuation of Indians, especially from Kharkiv&Sumy. PM spoke to PMs of Romania, Slovak Republic, Hungary and President of Poland to seek support for facilitation of entry of Indians to their countries," Jaishankar said.

PM deputed 4 Union Ministers as special envoys to Romania, Hungary, Slovak Republic and Poland to facilitate Operation Ganga. This included Jyotiraditya Scindia to Romania, Kiren Rijiju to Slovak Republic, Hardeep Singh Puri to Hungary & Gen VK Singh to Poland.

Sumy evacuation was extremely complex as our students faced the prospect of being caught in crossfire. Their evacuation from the city needed a credible ceasefire. This finally materialised due to the personal intervention of PM himself with the Presidents of Ukraine & Russia, Jaishankar further added.

"In line with India's principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, foreign nationals were also evacuated from conflict zones & brought to India. They included 147 citizens of 18 countries. Many Ukrainian nationals that are family members of Indian nationals have also been evacuated, " he said.

"At Kharkiv, Naveen Shekarappa Gyanagoudarm, a final year medical student of Kharkiv Medical University lost his life. We deeply mourn his untimely demise. Our Embassy in Ukraine is diligently pursuing the repatriation of his mortal remains to India," EAM said.

"Another Indian Harjot Singh suffered bullet injuries on his way out in Kyiv. His medical expenses were taken care of&arrangements made for movement from Kyiv to Polish border. He was brought back in IAF flight to India accompanied by a doctor arranged by our Mission in Poland," he concluded.

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