Stepping up its efforts to evacuate thousands of Indians stuck in Ukraine, the government on Monday decided to send four Union ministers to the neighbouring countries of the war-torn country to coordinate the evacuation process even as the external affairs ministry said nearly 8,000 nationals have returned in the last fortnight.
The decision to send Hardeep Puri, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kiren Rijiju and V K Singh as “special envoys” of India to coordinate the evacuation process was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also held another high-level meeting in the evening on Ukraine, government sources said.
Official sources said Modi spoke to all four ministers personally to convey the decision that they will be coordinating evacuation efforts on the ground from the countries in Ukraine’s neighbourhood.
Scindia will take care of evacuation efforts from Romania and Moldova while Rijiju will go to Slovakia, sources said, adding Puri will go to Hungary and Singh will be in Poland to manage the evacuation.
The decision to send these ministers came a day after Modi asserted that ensuring the safety of Indian students and evacuating them is the government’s top priority.
Monday meeting was also attended by several ministers, including External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla among other senior officials.
Also on Monday, Shringla briefed a parliamentary panel on the situation in Ukraine amid a Russian military offensive and India’s efforts to evacuate its citizens through land check-posts with five neighbouring countries, sources said.
They said the foreign secretary informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs that in the next two days the government is planning to operate 13 evacuation flights to the neighbouring nations of the war-torn country and the number of daily flights would be increased to nine.
During the briefing, Shringla also said that Russian-speaking officers had been sent to the border check-posts and Indian embassies in Ukraine’s five neighbouring countries — Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova — to boost evacuation efforts.
Asserting that India has managed to accelerate its efforts to get its nationals out of Ukraine in the last 24 hours, the MEA said a total of 1,396 Indians were brought back home in six flights as part of the evacuation mission.
MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi also said the total number of Indians who have left Ukraine since India issued the first advisory earlier this month is around 8,000.
India is also sending humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, the ministry said.
Calling Modi’s decision to send four ministers a “visionary step”, Singh told reporters “I am leaving for Poland today and will coordinate with both Ukraine and Poland to facilitate the evacuation of Indian citizens stranded in Ukraine.”The other three ministers are likely to leave on Tuesday.
After Singh’s travel announcement, Poland’s Ambassador to India Adam Burakowski held a closed-door meeting with the Union minister.
Describing his meeting with Singh as “very good”, the ambassador said his country is allowing entry to people of all nationalities who are leaving war-hit Ukraine by road and food and shelter will be provided to them.
Amid reports claiming that Indians were facing difficulties on the Poland-Ukraine border, the ambassador said those who are trying to cross to Poland from Ukraine must refer to the social media handles of the Indian embassy in Warsaw and the Twitter handle of Operation Ganga.
“I would like to request all Indian nationals who are trying to cross to Poland from Ukraine that they must refer to the social media of Indian embassy in Warsaw and Twitter account of Operation Ganga,” Burakowski told PTI.
Modi had chaired a meeting on the Ukraine crisis on Sunday too.
It was decided at the meeting to further enhance cooperation with the neighbouring countries of Ukraine to expedite the evacuation of Indian students, sources had said.According to sources, India has agreed to send humanitarian assistance including medical supplies to Ukraine at the request of the government there.