As Russia and Ukraine went into war against each other, thousands of Indians remain stranded in Ukrainian cities which are under shelling from Russian forces. Students form the bulk of the Indians living in Ukraine, who are pursuing higher studies from universities in that country. To ensure their safe return to India, before a war breaks out, Tata Group owned Air India operated special flights to Kyiv. However, most critics have termed it as too little too late.
On the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the first special Air India flight from Kyiv flew from Kyiv and reached Delhi the next morning. The first batch consisted of 240 passengers, mostly students, who had to pay a hefty fee to return to their country. The flight left Kyiv on 22nd February and landed in New Delhi in the early hours of 23rd February. A Ukraine International Airlines flight also reached safely on Thursday morning, 24th February, with 182 Indian citizens, mostly students. More Air India special flights were scheduled on 24th, 26th February and 6th March. But as Ukraine closed their airspace on 24th February, the scheduled Air India flight had to return from midway. More than 20,000 Indians are still stranded in Ukraine, waiting for their chance to catch a flight back home..
As there is no way to return home by air from Ukraine, thousands of Indians set on foot or local transport to reach Poland, Romania, Slovakia or Hungary, the countries which share land border with Ukraine. Air India now focuses on bringing back stranded Indians from these countries. The second Air India evacuation flight with 250 Indians touched Delhi on Sunday, Feb 27, from the Romanian capital, Bucharest. The third Air India evacuation flight reached Mumbai the same day with 219 Indians from Budapest, the capital of Hungary. However, more than 400 students have lined up at the Ukraine-Poland border, in freezing conditions, unable to cross-over to Poland. Though border authorities allowed Ukrainians to cross-over, most Indians were barred from entering Poland.
More flights are expected to follow in coming days from neighbouring countries of Ukraine, to bring back Indians fleeing Ukraine. Though the Indian Government is proud to evacuate 2000 Indians from Ukraine, a lot more is to be done, as more than 18,000 Indians are still stranded in Ukraine, most in cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv on the main area of clashes. Overall, as many critics say, the evacuation effort by India is yet to be up to the mark.
Written by – Himadri Paul