India is organising evacuation flights for citizens stranded in Ukraine and the cost of the evacuation will be borne fully by the government, sources familiar with the development said on Friday. On Thursday, as tensions escalated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the eastern European country shut its airspace to civilian flights, affecting the government’s efforts to repatriate over 20,000 Indian citizens, many of whom are students, stranded in Kyiv and other cities; the closing of the airspace also meant an Air India evacuation flight that was on its way to Ukraine had to turn back midway.
Faced with growing calls to act from worried family members and state leaders, the government has stressed it is working on alternate evacuation routes and has now identified two possible solutions.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Thursday held talks with Hungary foreign minister Peter Szijjarto about escape routes. Exit points along the Romania border have also been identified, and Slovakian foreign minister Ivan Korcok has also expressed willingness to facilitate evacuation of Indians.
Indians who are still in Ukraine will have to reach border points at which foreign ministry officials are camping.
From here they will be taken to airports in neighbouring countries. Indians living closest to two specific posts – the Chop- Záhony crossing near the Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod and on the border with Hungary, and the Porubne-Siret crossing near the city Chernivtsi on the Romania border.
Students are advised to carry their passports and cash (preferably in American dollars), as well as their Covid vaccination certificates, the government’s advisory has said.
Students are also advised to print out and prominently display the Indian national flag.
A senior government official said Air India is planning to operate two flights to the Romanian capital of Bucharest today to evacuate Indians who have reached the Ukraine-Romania border by road.
The flights will depart from Bucharest on Saturday, the officials said.
The distance between the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and the Romanian border is approximately 600 kilometres and it takes anywhere between 8.5 to 11 hours to cover the distance by road. The distance from the Ukraine-Romania border to Bucharest is approximately 500 kilometres and it takes anywhere between seven to nine hours to cover the distance by road.
The External Affairs Ministry has set up a 24×7 control room with helplines and a dedicated e-mail address to address concerns of the families of those stuck in Ukraine. Several state governments have set up similar operations.
These numbers are: +91 11 23012113 | +91 11 23014104 | +91 11 23017905
The e-mail ID is: email@example.com
Various chief ministers have also written to the centre to highlight the number of their people who are in Ukraine, and have set up individual control rooms.