NEW DELHI: India on Thursday was finalising contingency plans to evacuate its citizens from Ukraine after Russia launched a large-scale military attack on its neighbouring country even as the European Union reached out to New Delhi for its contribution to defuse the "grave situation".
With around 20,000 Indians stuck in Ukraine, the top brass of the government handling strategic affairs held a series of high-level meetings to put into operation certain contingency plans to assist the Indians.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a "military operation" in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, Russia launched multiple attacks on several areas in central and eastern Ukraine that attracted severe condemnation from the US and its allies.
As the Ukrainian government declared a state emergency and closed the country's airspace for civilian flights, the Indian embassy in Kyiv issued three separate advisories in the course of the day appealing to the Indians to maintain calm and remain safe wherever they are.
The embassy said in view of the closure of the Ukrainian airspace, alternative arrangements are being made for the evacuation of Indian nationals.
However, it did not provide any clarity on evacuation arrangements.
Separately, the Indian ambassador to Ukraine, Partha Satpathy, called on Indians to face the current situation with "calm and fortitude" as the situation is "highly tense and very uncertain".
The envoy said the Ministry of External Affairs and the embassy are working on a "mission mode" to find a "solution to this difficult situation".
In the midst of the Russian offensive, European Union's High Representative for foreign affairs Josep Borrell spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and discussed the "grave situation" and how India could contribute to de-escalating the situation.
"Received a call from EU HRVP @JosepBorrellF. Discussed the grave situation in Ukraine and how India could contribute to de-escalation efforts," Jaishankar tweeted.
The 27-nation European Union has been playing a key role to defuse the crisis.
In its latest advisory, the Indian embassy said the movement of people is now difficult in Ukraine as it is under martial law and those hearing air sirens and bomb warnings should find nearby bomb shelters.
"We are aware that certain places are hearing air sirens/bomb warnings. In case you are faced with such a situation, Google maps have a list of nearby bomb shelters, many of which are located in underground metros," it said.
"While the mission is identifying a possible solution to the situation, please be aware of your surroundings, be safe, do not leave your homes unless necessary and carry your documents with you at all times," it said.
The ambassador said the Indian embassy in Kyiv continues to remain open and operate.
"I am reaching out to you from Kyiv. Today early morning, we all woke up with the news that Ukraine is under attack. The situation is highly tense and very uncertain and this of course is causing a lot of anxiety," he said.
"The air space is closed, railway schedules are in flux and roads are crammed. I would request everyone to stay calm and face the situation with fortitude," Satpathy said.
He said the embassy has already reached out to the Indian diaspora in Ukraine and requested them to assist the Indians to the "best of their abilities".
"I urge you to please stay wherever you are, in your familiar locations. Those who are in transit, please return to your familiar places of habitation," he said.
"Those who are stranded here in Kyiv, please get in touch with your friends and colleagues in Kyiv, universities and other community members, so that you can temporarily lodge there," Satpathy said.
Government sources said "contingency plans are being put into operation and that the immediate priority is to assist the Indians".
In one of its advisories, the Indian embassy said: "All those who are travelling to Kyiv, including those travelling from western parts of Kyiv, are advised to return to their respective cities temporarily, especially towards safer places along with the western bordering countries."
It is learnt that the government is exploring the possibility of facilitating the movement of the stranded Indians to Polland from where they can be evacuated. However, there is no clarity on it.
In a related development, Ukraine's Ambassador to India Igor Polikha said India has a "special" relationship with Russia and it can play a more proactive role in de-escalation of the situation. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among very few leaders who President Vladimir Putin listens to and New Delhi can use its proximity with Moscow to control the situation.
At the same time, he said Ukraine was "deeply dissatisfied" with India's position on the crisis.
India has been pressing for de-escalation of tensions taking into account the legitimate security interests of all countries.
The situation in Ukraine deteriorated after Putin announced the military operation in Ukraine.
Following Putin's announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said an "invasion" could be the beginning of a "big war" in Europe.