Indian students from Sumy

Delhi, Mar 09: After an agonizing wait that lasted days, India was finally able to evacuate close to 700 Indian students from Sumy in northeastern Ukraine. The students were driven in 12-14 buses to Poltava in central Ukraine following communication by the Ukrainian foreign ministry that a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians, including foreign students, from Sumy to Poltava had been agreed on Tuesday.

The government said that the students will be taken to western Ukraine in a special train and that Operation Ganga flights were being arranged to bring them back to India.

For India, the main challenge was to get Russia and Ukraine to work in step with each other for the evacuation of the students. This, according to official sources, was made possible by hectic diplomatic activities that followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s back-to-back conversations with President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

Foreign minister S Jaishankar spoke to Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla yet again called in Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors, Denis Alipov and Igor Polikha, to convince them to provide a safe passage to the students.

Apart from the foreign ministry, the defense ministry was also in touch with officials in both Russia and Ukraine to aid evacuation efforts. A team of senior government officials was also sent to Ukraine to help in the evacuation, as a source put it, endgame.

“It wasn’t easy as arranging almost everything and anything — drivers, fuel, busses — was an uphill task. Our estimate was that the evacuation will require 10-12 buses but eventually we managed to get a few more,” said a source involved in the evacuation efforts.

The Indian embassy has asked all Indian nationals still in Ukraine to use humanitarian corridors, as announced from 10 am on Tuesday, to evacuate using any available transport service and give “due consideration to safety”. It said the establishment of the next such corridor is uncertain given the security situation.

“Happy to inform that we have been able to move out all Indian students from Sumy. They are currently en route to Poltava, from where they will board trains to western Ukraine. Flights under Operation Ganga are being prepared to bring them home,” tweeted MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

Also Read: Russia – Ukraine war: Russia declared a ceasefire in the regions of Kyiv, Mariupol, Kharkov and Sumy

While Russia had announced a ceasefire in Sumy on Monday, Ukraine rejected it saying it wanted civilians to be evacuated to Ukrainian territory and not Russia. This meant that India had to abort all evacuation plans for Monday and await a green signal from both Russia and Ukraine for restarting the operation. Official sources didn’t rule out the possibility of a few more students remaining in eastern Ukraine but said they probably had strong “personal reasons” for not leaving the country for now.

“We call on Russia to uphold its ceasefire commitment, to refrain from activities that endanger the lives of people, and to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid,” said Ukraine in its announcement, while also announcing the evacuation of civilians, including foreigners, to Poltava.