As many as 688 Indian nationals returned here on Sunday from strife-torn Ukraine on board three Air India evacuation flights from Romanian capital Bucharest and Hungarian capital Budapest. Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said that approximately 13,000 Indians are stranded in Ukraine as of now, and the government is making efforts to bring them back as soon as possible. Following the Russian military offensive against Ukraine, India has brought back a total of 907 stranded citizens from that country since Saturday when the first evacuation flight from Bucharest with 219 people on board landed in Mumbai under Operation Ganga.
The second flight (AI1942) departed from Bucharest with 250 Indian citizens and landed at the Delhi airport around 2.45 AM on Sunday, officials said. With 240 Indian nationals on board, the third evacuation flight from Bucharest landed at the Delhi airport around 9.20 AM on Sunday, followed by another Tata Group-run carrier's flight from Bucharest with 198 Indian nationals at 5.35 PM. Air India spokesperson said the carrier plans to send two more planes to Bucharest and Budapest on Sunday so that they can operate fifth and sixth evacuation flights but it is "all highly tentative".
Early this morning, Scindia welcomed the evacuees of the AI1942 flight at the Delhi airport by handing out roses to them. Scindia told reporters at the airport terminal that approximately 13,000 Indians are stranded in Ukraine as of now. "You know it is an extremely sensitive situation there (Ukraine). In this situation, we are talking with each Indian national, including students, through telecommunications," he said.
"We will bring them back as soon as possible," he said. Addressing the returnees, Scindia said, "I know you all have been through a very, very difficult time, a very, very trying time. But know this that the PM is with you at every step, the Indian government is with you at every step, and 130 crore Indians are with you at every step." The Ukrainian airspace has been closed for civil aircraft operations since February 24 morning when the Russian military offensive began. Therefore, the Indian evacuation flights are operating out of Bucharest and Budapest.
Indian nationals, who reached the Ukraine-Romania border and Ukraine-Hungary border, were taken to Bucharest and Budapest, respectively, by road with the assistance of Indian government officials so that they could be evacuated in these Air India flights. Scindia told the passengers of the AI1942 flight that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in touch with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and talks are being held so that everyone is brought home safely. The minister said talks are also on with the Russian government, and the Indian government will breathe easy only after every stranded Indian is evacuated from Ukraine.
"So, please pass on this message to all your friends and all your colleagues that we are with them and we will guarantee their safe passage back," Scindia said. "I welcome you all on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I would like to congratulate the team of Air India too, for putting in so much effort to bring you all back," he added. The government is not charging the rescued citizens for the evacuation flights. Air India shared on Twitter photos of Scindia receiving the evacuees at the airport.
The Indian Embassy in Ukraine said on Sunday that whenever curfew is lifted and people are moving around in a neighbourhood, Indian nationals are advised to use nearby railway stations to proceed towards western parts of the country. The western parts of the country are relatively conflict-free as of now. “The transportation mode of Railways is operational and safer…Ukrainian Railways is also operating special trains for evacuation of people free of charge on a first-come-first-serve basis at the railway station,” the Indian Embassy in Ukraine noted. It said Indians should travel in groups and carry only essentials in a rucksack or a bag.
With PTI Inputs