Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s phone talks with Russian and Ukrainian presidents, a series of separate intense diplomatic outreach in Delhi, Kyiv and Moscow and round-the-clock groundwork by three teams of Indian officials in Ukraine made the evacuation of students from the city of Sumy possible, people familiar with the operation said on Wednesday.
These were the three main components of India’s “difficult and complex” mission to evacuate around 600 of its students from the war-torn northeastern Ukrainian city, they said.
The Indian students were pulled out of Sumy on Tuesday after Russia and Ukraine heeded a request by India to stop shelling and bombardments and create a humanitarian corridor to ensure their safe passage.
A planned operation to take out the students from the besieged city had to be aborted on Monday after the Ukrainian side conveyed that it will not respect a previously agreed ceasefire.
The message by the Ukrainian side was followed by similar communication from the Russian troops, the people cited above said.
It was a difficult decision to abort the evacuation as some of the students had boarded the buses, they said.
However, a message of approval came late on Monday night from the Ukrainian authorities that they would provide all necessary support for the evacuation of the Indian students the next day.
“We were reassured of the security. But still, our teams kept an eye on the situation throughout the night. The convoy of buses reached Sumy at 8 am, loaded the students and were out of the city by 9 am,” said one of the people cited above.
The person said the Indian officials on the ground were worried till the students reached a designated place on the way to Poltava city.
The students were taken to Poltava city from where they travelled to Lviv and then Poland.
“It was a very difficult and complex operation,” said another person.
The people cited above said Modi’s phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was instrumental in the evacuation mission.
Simultaneously, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla spoke to the Ukrainian deputy foreign minister as well as the Russian and Ukrainian envoys in Delhi.
Separately, Indian embassies in Moscow and Kyiv also were also engaged with relevant authorities for evacuation of the students while contacts with the International Committee of the Red Cross was activated for any possible support.
The people familiar with the operation said a “whole of the government” approach was followed for the evacuation mission ‘Operation Ganga’ under which multiple teams in Delhi, Ukraine and Russia worked day-in and day-out.
They said around 50 Indian officials, including a significant number of Russian-speaking diplomats, were sent to Indian embassies in Ukraine, Romania, Poland and Hungary to coordinate the evacuation process.
Another team headed by a senior joint secretary was sent to Ukraine to oversee the evacuation mission, the people cited above said.
“Three teams of Indians officials were specifically working on the ground to take out the Indian students from Sumy,” said one of them.
The sources said at least 15 students from a number of countries including Bangladesh and Tunisia could come out of Sumy in the Indian convoy because of India’s efforts.
“We do not know whether they will take Indian flights or take a flight to their respective countries,” said the person cited above.
India is set to have the last evacuation flight under ‘Operation Ganga’, the evacuation mission that was launched on February 26 in the wake of the war in Ukraine.
India brought back over 17,100 of its nationals from across Ukraine under Operation Ganga.
India has been bringing back its nationals from Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova after they crossed over to these countries from Ukraine through land border transit points.
Ukraine had closed its airspace for civilian aircraft after Russia began the military operation.