India will operate 26 flights over the next three days to fly back Indian citizens who have moved from Ukraine to neighbouring countries, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told reporters after Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting on the country's evacuation efforts. Besides Romania's Bucharest and Hungary's Budapest, airports in Poland and Slovak Republic will also be used, he added. The Indian embassy in Kyiv has been shut and the staff shifted in view of possible escalation in Russian military action. Mr Shringla also said no Indian citizen is left in the city.
Under the "Mission Ganga" plans, there are 46 flights till March 8, of which 29 will take off from Bucharest, 10 from Budapest, six from Poland's Rzeszow, and one from Slovakia's Kocise. The Air Force will operate one flight from Bucharest.
There were an estimated 20,000 Indian students in Ukraine when the government issued its first advisory. "From that number, approximately 12,000 have since left Ukraine, which is 60 per cent of the total," the Foreign Secretary said.
"Of the remaining 40 per cent, roughly half remain in conflict zone in Kharkiv, Sumy area and the other half has either reached the western borders of Ukraine or are heading towards the western part of Ukraine... they are generally out of conflict areas," the Foreign Secretary said.
The government had stepped up its evacuation efforts over the last two days as videos from stranded students flooded social media. PM Modi held four high-level meetings within 48 hours.
A dedicated twitter handle was started to aid the students and the services of Air India was augmented by private carriers Spicejet and Indigo. The government even pressed the Indian Air Force into service, saying it will speed up the process.
Mr Shringla said this afternoon, he spoke to the Ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine. "I reiterated strongly our demand for urgent safe passage for all Indian nationals who are still in Kharkiv and other cities in the conflict area," he added.
The government said all Indians have left Kyiv, where Russian offensive is likely to intensify next. The Indian embassy in Kyiv has also been shut.
"All of our nationals have left Kyiv," Mr Shringla said. "The information with us is that we have no more nationals left in Kyiv, nobody has contacted us from Kyiv since... All our inquiries reveal that each and every one of our nationals has come out of Kyiv," he added.
Since the Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday, stranded students have been desperately seeking help through media and social media, forwarding videos of their plight from railway stations, border posts and bunkers. Alleging manhandling, they said they were not being allowed to board trains.
At the border, where many reached after walking miles in the sub-zero temperature, they are being made to wait for hours without food or water, the students have said.
Yesterday one of the students, a 21-year-old medical student from Karnataka, died during Russian shelling in Kharkiv.
Mr Shringla said the meeting started with condolences on the death of Naveen Shekharappa. "The PM conveyed his deep anguish on the loss of the life of an Indian national," he said.