The first Air India flight carrying 219 Indian evacuees from Ukraine landed at the Mumbai airport from Bucharest, Romania, on Saturday evening, ATC sources said. Operated with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner plane, Air India flight AI-1944 touched down the runway at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) here at 7.50 pm, they said. Union Minister Piyush Goyal was at the airport to receive the Indian nationals returning from war-hit Ukraine on their arrival.
The Air India flight had left from Mumbai for Bucharest at 3.38 am Saturday and landed there at around 10.45 am (Indian Standard Time). It departed for Mumbai at 1.55 pm (IST). The Ukrainian airspace has been closed for civil aircraft operations since the morning of February 24 and therefore, the evacuation flights are operating out of Bucharest and Budapest.
Indian nationals who reached the Ukraine-Romania border by road have been taken to Bucharest by Indian government officials so that they can be evacuated in the Air India flights. Around 16,000 Indians, mainly students, were stranded in Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had said on February 24. The distance between Kyiv and the Romanian border checkpoint is approximately 600 km and it takes anywhere between eight hours to 11 hours to cover it by road.
The Indian embassy in Ukraine on Friday said it was working to establish evacuation routes from Romania and Hungary. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had earlier in the day said on Twitter that AI1944 with "219 Indian nationals has taken off from Romania". "Regarding evacuation of Indian nationals from Ukraine, we are making progress. Our teams are working on the ground round the clock. I am personally monitoring," he added.
Air India will operate more flights on Saturday to Bucharest and Hungarian capital Budapest to evacuate Indians stranded in Ukraine. Prior to the closure of the Ukrainian airspace, Air India had operated a flight to Ukraine's capital Kyiv on February 22 that brought 240 people back. It had planned to operate two more flights on February 24 and February 26 but could not as the Russian offensive began on February 24 and the Ukrainian airspace was consequently shut down.
With PTI Inputs