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Russia-Ukraine crisis | Indians stranded in Ukraine urge government to rescue them

With the closure of airspace over Ukraine following the Russian invasion, the Indian government is trying to evacuate its stranded citizens through neighbouring countries.

February 24, 2022 / 06:22 PM IST
Smoke bellows from a house in Eastern Ukraine after being hit by shells fired by Russia (Image: AFP)

Smoke bellows from a house in Eastern Ukraine after being hit by shells fired by Russia (Image: AFP)

Thousands of Indian students and professionals stranded in Ukraine after the country’s airspace was closed following the invasion by Russian forces have urged the Indian government to intervene and evacuate them.

The Indian embassy in Ukraine issued an advisory stating that the “situation is highly uncertain” and advised Indians to maintain calm and remain safe.

“Dear Indians in Ukraine, the present situation in Ukraine is highly uncertain. Please maintain calm and remain safe wherever you are, be it in your homes, hostels, accommodations or in transit,” the advisory read.

The government plans to evacuate Indians from Ukraine through neighbouring nations, people aware of the matter said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced military operations in Ukraine on February 24 to defend separatists in the eastern part of the country. Russia claims to have destroyed Ukrainian airbases and air defences, according to reports.

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An estimated 20,000 Indians are enrolled in undergraduate medicine courses at various universities in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and elsewhere in the country. Many of them have got in touch with the Indian embassy in a bid to leave the country as soon as possible.

“We had heard reports of attacks taking place in Kyiv and its neighbouring cities since last night (February 23) and then this morning (February 24) attacks happened in our city of Ivano Frankivsk as well,” Rashid Rizwan, a fourth-year MBBS student studying at Ivano Frankivsk National Medical University, told Moneycontrol.

Rizwan, who is from Gopalganj in Bihar, said about a dozen students from Gopalganj were stuck in Ivano Frankivsk, a city located in western Ukraine, and that all ATMs and grocery stores in the city had been shut down.

“There are attacks every 1 km. Civilians are not safe at all. We are all running out of money and food and nothing has been done till now to evacuate us,” complained Divyanshu Gahlot, a student in Ukraine.

Sayan Chowdhury, a fourth-year medical student, said that while the Indian embassy had been issuing advisories over the past week, air ticket prices from Ukraine had risen steeply to almost Rs 1 lakh, which many cannot afford to fly back to their homes in India.

Normal one-way airfares of Rs 15,000-20,000 between Kyiv and New Delhi increased five-fold over the past few days as a Russian attack appeared imminent.

Saquib Hussian, a doctor working in Ukraine, complained that the astronomical airfares made it very hard for everyone to leave the country. He said the Indian embassy had advised stranded citizens to travel towards the western borders of Ukraine. However, public transport in all major cities was not functional and there were very few options to travel.

The parents of Anushik Purshottam, a working professional stranded in Kyiv, said they had not been able to get in touch with their son since February 24 morning. Purshottam was to have left Ukraine on Air India’s AI 1947 flight on February 24, but the aircraft returned to India empty after the airspace closure.

Not all options to evacuate Indians through neighbouring countries may be feasible. The closest international airport outside Ukraine is in the Belarus capital of Minsk. However, officials said this route may not work out because Belarus, a staunch ally of Russia, was said to have been complicit in the ground offensive by Russia.

As the Indian embassy in Ukraine tries to line up rescue flights from neighbouring countries, officials said safe passage may be sought for Indians to the Polish border on Ukraine’s western border.

The government is speaking to airlines including Air India, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways to keep flights on standby in Poland.

“Until now, no flights have been scheduled but we are in touch with airlines to keep planes on standby that can be used to bring back Indian citizens from Ukraine,” a senior government official said.

The embassy has assured those who had bought tickets before flight operations were suspended that it would help them find a seat to fly home.



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