Teams from Indian missions in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania have reached the land borders with Ukraine to assist in the evacuation of Indian nationals from the war-hit country, sources said.
The sources confirmed to Moneycontrol that some of the teams have made first contact with Indians at the border.
Late on January 24, the Ministry of External Affairs announced that it has dispatched teams from Indian embassies in the neighboring nations to Ukrainian land borders. Indian nationals stranded in Ukraine were advised to head to the nearest border points.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke to his counterparts in these nations and secured the promise of Indians being let across the border on an emergency basis.
This came hours after Moneycontrol reported that the government was planning to fly out Indians from neighboring nations on Ukraine's western borders such as Poland. Poland and Slovakia are on Ukraine's western border, while Hungary and Romania are on the South-Wast.
Officials have, however, conceded that these borders remain far, and difficult to reach owing to the continuing air offensive and bombing across Ukraine.
Among these nations, the border with Poland is the nearest to Ukrainian capital Kyiv. However, it is still 504 kilometers away, at the border town of Starovoitove. The nearest checkpoints for the Slovakian border is at Uzzhorod (817 km), Hungarian border at Solomonovo (824 km), and Romanian border at Terebleche (578 km).
What began as an alternate evacuation plan had to be finally adopted by India, given the spiraling violence in Ukraine and the closed airspace, sources stressed. Since last week, the MEA had also run a 24x7 control room in New Delhi in view of the prevailing situation in Ukraine.
"The Indian Embassy in Kyiv will try to create a convoy from Kyiv to the Polish border, but Indians in disparate regions of the country (Ukraine) should head to their nearest border points on the western side if they safely can," an official said.
Indians still stuck
According to the government, around 15,000 of the original 20,000 Indians continue to be stuck in Ukraine. Indian students usually visit the country to pursue MBBS degrees.
Many of them have got in touch with the Indian Embassy, and have expressed interest in leaving the country as soon as possible. While many are based in Kyiv itself, others are spread across the country.
Even before the invasion by Russia began on February 24, the Embassy had asked all Indian students left in the country to register with it, officials said. Hours after airstrikes began across major cities in Ukraine, it 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 the students to possibly head to the western borders of Ukraine, 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 canceled", and further stressing that alternative arrangements are being made for the evacuation of Indian nationals.
"Please carry your passports and other necessary documents on your person at all times," it said.
The Belarusian capital of Minsk has the closest international airport outside Ukraine from 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.
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.
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.
Late on February 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, requesting the safe passage of Indians in Ukraine.