Of the estimated 20,000 Indians, including students, who were trapped in Ukraine at the start of the Russian offensive there, 60 per cent have crossed Ukrainian borders and are safe with efforts underway to rescue the remaining people, the Centre told the Kerala High Court on Wednesday.
The central government has told the high court that under 'Operation Ganga', in addition to commercial aircrafts, Indian Air Force flights have also been pressed into operation to evacuate the Indians who have crossed into Romania, Poland, Hungary and other neighbouring countries of Ukraine.
With regard to the students stranded in war-hit Kharkiv, the government said the situation there was volatile as the city was under heavy shelling and it was, therefore, ''advisable for our students to stay put wherever they are for their physical safety''.
''As and when the situation improves, the students in Kharkiv will be evacuated on priority in a suitable manner. Our Mission in Kyiv is in touch with most of the students and has been trying to make available provisions where possible. ''The Mission has also requested the Ukrainian authorities to ensure their safety and security,'' the government has said in a statement filed in the court through Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) Manu S.
The statement was filed in response to a plea moved by the Kerala High Court Advocates Association and two of its members, whose daughter is stranded in Ukraine, for the safe and expeditious repatriation of Malayali students trapped there.
On Wednesday, the petitioners told the court that the students mentioned in their plea have crossed into Hungary and are safe.
However, they said they have some other concerns also and subsequently, the court listed the matter for hearing on Thursday.
In the statement, the Centre has said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has been issuing advisories since February 15 asking Indian nationals in Ukraine to leave that country temporarily and after the invasion started, it started 'Operation Ganga' to evacuate Indians who managed to exit Ukraine into nearby countries.
Following the advisories, from February 16 to 23 around 4,000 Indians returned to India on commercial flights, it said.
Subsequently, till March 1, 15 evacuation flights have been operated and 26 more are planned in the coming days to bring back about 5,500 more Indian nationals, the statement said.
''Under 'Operation Ganga', more than 2,000 Indian nationals have been brought back to India from Ukraine's neighbouring countries (Romania and Hungary). Around 6,000 Indian nationals have already crossed the borders of Ukraine and are presently in the neighbouring countries of Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova. ''These Indian nationals are being taken care of by the Government of India, at its cost, till they reach India under 'Operation Ganga'. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 Indian nationals remain in Ukraine, mainly in the east of the country, for which efforts are being made by the government to bring them back as soon as possible,'' the Centre has said in the statement. The Centre has also claimed that anticipating the evacuation through the countries west of Ukraine, MEA teams -- some led by the Ambassadors -- were positioned at the Polish, Romanian and Hungary side of the borders since February 25 ''to receive and pro-actively arrange the onward evacuation'' of the Indian nationals.
''It is submitted that our embassies in the neighbouring countries of Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland are receiving the Indian evacuees, providing food, water and shelter to the extent possible, and making arrangements for Indian rescue flights to take our nationals home,'' it further claimed.
On Monday, the Centre had told the court that four Union Cabinet Ministers were being sent to facilitate repatriation of the Indians stranded in Ukraine.
Advocate Santhosh Mathew, who represented the petitioners, had told the court on Monday about the practical difficulties faced by the students trapped in the war-hit cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv as well as by those who managed to reach the borders, but were not permitted to go through.
In the plea, which was moved on Monday and heard on the same day, the petitioners had contended that while the Indian Embassy there was coordinating the evacuation efforts, ''the reality of the situation is that these children must bear the entire cost and risk of travelling in a war zone to the nearest border''.
After they reach the border, they are faced with ''mass discrimination and torture by the Ukrainian Army and the border patrol'' and they are also made to wait for hours in the extreme cold weather, the petition has claimed and added that this was probably due to the alleged ''lack of a presence of the representatives of the Indian Embassy''.
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