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Exclusive | Govt may fly out stranded Indians in Ukraine from neighboring nations: Sources

While the primary objective remains the restoration of direct flights to Kyiv, an evacuation plan involving neighboring countries is being vetted to see whether it is feasible. As the closest international airport in Belarus remains cut off, the government is in talks with Air India, Air Arabia, and Qatar Airways to have flights on standby in Poland, on Ukraine's eastern border.

February 24, 2022 / 02:52 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)


As hopes of sending more civilian flights dim due to the escalating fighting in Ukraine, the government is planning to evacuate Indians through the country's neighboring nations, sources say. This would entail flights to the neighboring countries of Poland, Slovakia, or Hungary on Ukraine's eastern borders, they added.

"The government is currently brainstorming with India's permanent mission at the United Nations as well as the Indian embassy in Kyiv, as to the next possible step. While the primary objective is to restore direct flights to Kyiv to extract our citizens, a possible evacuation plan involving neighboring countries is being vetted to see whether it is feasible," a senior official with the Ministry of External Affairs said.

The Belarus capital of Minsk has the closest international airport outside Ukraine from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. However, officials say that route may not be feasible since Russia's staunch ally Belarus is also reported to be complicit in Thursday's ground offensive by Russia. Instead, officials say safe passage may be sought for Indians to the Polish border on Ukraine's eastern border.

According to sources, around 20,000 Indians are studying MBBS in Ukraine. Many of them have gotten in touch with the Embassy, and have expressed interest in leaving the country as soon as possible. While many of them are based in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, others are spread across the country.

"Thankfully there are very few Indians in the two separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk," the official said. Located in the Donbas region, the two states are at the epicenter of the current conflict.

Close

The government is also speaking to multiple airlines like Air India, Air Arabia, and Qatar Airways to have flights on standby in Poland and is coordinating with the Indian embassy in Ukraine to line up rescue flights from neighboring countries.

"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 second of three planned Air India flights to Kyiv had to turn back towards Delhi on Thursday after Ukraine issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) for all flights headed towards the country, stating that it has closed its airspace.

Latest advisory

Hours after the invasion by Russia began in the form of airstrikes across major cities across Ukraine, the Indian embassy in Kyiv asked students to not travel to the capital, and instead, head back to the respective cities they were based out of. While asking Indians to maintain calm, the Embassy had also asked students to possibly head to the western borders of Ukraine, currently considered to be relatively safer.

It later put out an advisory stating that 'since the Ukrainian airspace has been closed, the schedule for special flights stands cancelled,' and further stressing that alternative arrangements are being made for the evacuation of Indian nationals. "Pease carry your passports and other necessary documents on your person at all times," it said.

Earlier, the embassy had asked all Indian students currently left in the country to register with it, officials said. This is standard protocol in cases of war breaking out in a foreign country and would better prepare the government to plan for exigencies, they added.







Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to intervene and ensure the safety of 2320 students from Kerala currently in Ukraine. The CM has asked the Centre to make necessary arrangements for their return by arranging special flights.








Last week, the MEA had also set up a 24x7 control room in New Delhi in view of the prevailing situation in Ukraine.

 



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Subhayan Chakraborty has been regularly reporting on international trade, diplomacy and foreign policy, for the past 6 years. He has also extensively covered evolving industry and government issues. He was earlier with Business Standard newspaper.
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