New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today chaired a meeting with high-ranking ministers and officials regarding the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis and the situations of Indian students in Ukraine who are appealing to be brought back from Ukraine. Four Union Ministers of the Government of India are scheduled to travel to Ukraine’s neighbouring countries to oversee the evacuation of Indian students stranded in Ukraine amidst Russia’s invasion of the country, sources said.
Minister for Housing/Urban Affairs and Petroleum/Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia, Minister for Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju, and Minister of State for Road Transport/Highways and Civil Aviation V.K. Singh will travel to countries surrounding Ukraine as special envoys of India to help with the evacuation.
“The PM said that the safe evacuation of students is a priority,” sources said on the second such meeting called by Modi in a span of two days. On Sunday evening, the Prime Minister participated in a meeting with Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, and Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, among others.
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A limited number of students were able to escape right before Russia launched its attack last Thursday and Ukraine shut its airspace. Those who remain in the country have been attempting to reach the border in hopes of boarding Air India evacuation flights arranged from neighbouring countries like Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Slovakia. The Indian Embassy in Ukraine, however, posted on Twitter on Saturday urging Indian citizens not to move to any border posts without coordinating with government officials using special helpline numbers.
It is being estimated that approximately 16,000 Indian students are stuck in Ukraine, either at the borders, or hiding in safe houses, bunkers, or underground basements/ shelters.
Many students who had already set out to reach the border on foot, in sub-zero temperatures, alleged that they were unable to cross it and had received almost no assistance from embassy and border officials. Visuals of hundreds of such Indians stuck at Ukrainian borders have been emerging on social media.
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Opposition parties in India, chiefly the Indian National Congress, have been sharing these visuals to highlight the plight of stranded Indians and have accused the government of being unable to provide safe passage for its nationals.
The first evacuation flight under ‘Operation Ganga’, as the government has labelled it, arrived in Mumbai on Saturday, bringing 219 people with it from Bucharest in Romania. Five flights have arrived with students thus far.
Meanwhile, India abstained once again from a procedural vote taken in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) seeking a rare special emergency session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, even as New Delhi welcomed the decision of Moscow and Kyiv to hold bilateral peace talks at the Belarus border.
The 15-member UNSC met on Sunday afternoon to conduct the vote on the session. The resolution was adopted with 11 votes in favour, paving the way for the General Assembly to meet on the crisis today. India, China, and the United Arab Emirates abstained, while Russia voted against the resolution. This will only be the eleventh such emergency session of the UNGA since 1950, and the first since 1982.
This comes two days after Russia vetoed and blocked a UNSC resolution on its “aggression” against Ukraine; the aforementioned three countries, including India, abstained from voting on this resolution as well. The vote calling for the UNGA session being procedural implies that none of the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – could exercise their vetoes.
Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, stated that India is “deeply disturbed” by the deteriorating developments in Ukraine and “deeply concerned” about the security of the Indian community in the country. He reiterated that India is committed to seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict and an immediate cessation of hostilities between all sides. In his explanation for India’s repeated abstention from voting at the UNSC, which many are viewing as a sign of political passivity, Tirumurti underscored the importance of constructive diplomacy, stating, “Dialogue is the only answer to settling differences and disputes, however daunting that may appear at this moment. It is a matter of regret that the path of diplomacy was given up. We must return to it. For all these reasons, India has chosen to abstain on this resolution”.