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'30 flights operated, about 6,400 people brought back'

30 flights operated, about 6,400 people brought back

New Delhi: As war rages on in Ukraine, India on Thursday bolstered efforts to evacuate its citizens from the strife-torn country, with four IAF aircraft bringing back 798 people, and Russia promising it will help Indians make a safe exit through its borders.

Ministry of External Affairs said around 6,400 people have been brought back under Operation Ganga that was launched to evacuate Indian nationals, while over 7,400 more are expected to return home to safety over the next two days, officials said.

MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the number of people who have left Ukraine since advisories were issued to them to evacuate stood at nearly 18,000.

An implacable Russia, which is pressing ahead with its bombardment of key Ukrainian cities, while rejecting calls by the international community for cessation of hostilities, offered a glimmer of hope to Indians stuck in the war zone, saying it is ready to send 130 buses to evacuate them from Ukraine's battle-scarred Kharkiv and Sumy to its Belgorod region.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian negotiators at talks with Russian officials on Thursday demanded a ceasefire and humanitarian corridors to evacuate besieged citizens as Moscow's invasion forces surrounded and bombarded Ukrainian cities.

Hundreds of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians have been killed since President Putin sent his troops over the border on February 24. Russia itself has been plunged into isolation. The United Nations said more than one million refugees had fled in just seven days and the humanitarian crisis was growing worse. With its main assault force halted for days on a highway north of Kyiv, Russia has shifted tactics, escalating its bombardment of cities.

On the other hand, Bagchi told a media briefing in New Delhi: "The pace of Operation Ganga continues to accelerate. During the last 24 hours, 15 flights landed in India, bringing back more than 3,000 Indians."

He added: "With this, it takes the total number of flights under operation Ganga to 30. So, we have brought back around 6,400 Indian citizens."

During the next 24 hours, 18 flights have been scheduled, including three by C-17 Indian Air Force aircraft and the rest commercial airliners, Bagchi said.

In terms of the departure points from Europe, there will be seven flights from Bucharest (Romania), five from Budapest (Hungary), three from Rzeszow (Poland) and one from Košice (Slovakia), Bagchi said.

Bagchi said that the increased number of flights reflects the large number of Indians who have crossed over from Ukraine and are now in the neighbouring countries.

"We will further step up efforts to bring all these Indians, who are now in safety, back to India at the earliest... We hope that over the next two-three days, a large number of these people will be back home. Till they are brought home, after having crossed the Ukrainian border, our embassies in cooperation with the host governments and local partners are providing food and accommodation to them," he said.

In a glimmer of hope for Indians trapped in Ukraine's bleak landscape with crumbling buildings and flashes of light from missiles whistling across the sky, a top Russian military general, meanwhile, said his country was ready with 130 buses to help them exit the battle zone through its borders. The remarks by Russian National Defence Control Center head Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed the safe evacuation of Indians.

A young medical student Naveen SG from Karnataka was killed in one such shelling on Tuesday when he ventured out to buy food for himself and fellow students, who cowered inside a shelter in freezing cold, running out of supplies.

"A total of 130 comfortable buses are ready to depart to Kharkov (Kharkiv) and Sumy from the Nekhoteyevka and Sudzha checkpoints in the Belgorod Region since 6 AM today in order to Rescue Indian students and citizens of other foreign states," Colonel-General Mizintsev was quoted as saying by the state-owned TASS news agency. Mizintsev said that places for temporary accommodation and rest have been set up at the checkpoints.

"The evacuees will be then transported to the city of Belgorod for subsequent departure to their homeland by air, including via Russian military airplanes, the General said.

During their telephonic conversation on Wednesday, President Putin assured Prime Minister Modi that Russia is making every effort to help Indian nationals leave Ukraine safely, the Kremlin said.

"Putin emphasised that every necessary instruction has been issued, and the Russian service members are doing their utmost to ensure the safe evacuation of Indian nationals from the zone of hostilities and their return home, it said.

"In particular, Russia is doing its best to organise the urgent evacuation of a group of Indian students from Kharkov via a humanitarian corridor by the shortest route to Russia," the Kremlin said on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Arindam Bagchi said in New Delhi India has been coordinating effectively with the countries in the region including Russia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova for evacuation of Indians from Ukraine.

India has been evacuating its citizens by special flights from Ukraine's western neighbours such as Romania, Hungary and Poland as the Ukrainian airspace has been shut since February 24 when Putin ordered the launch of military offensive in Ukraine. Four Union ministers are in countries neighbouring Ukraine to facilitate the evacuation of Indian nationals. Hardeep Singh Puri is in Hungary, Jyotiraditya Scindia in Romania, Kiren Rijiju in Slovakia and V K Singh in Poland. Earlier in the day, four C-17 Indian Air Force transport aircraft brought back 798 Indians from the Romanian capital Bucharest, Hungary's Budapest and Polish city Rzeszow.

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