Journey on train amidst sounds of explosion: Indian students recount Ukraine horror as 'Operation Ganga' nears end

While students from universities across Ukraine reached the borders of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania on their own, those in Sumy were terrorised.

Published: 10th March 2022 04:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th March 2022 08:14 AM   |  A+A-

Indian nationals gather at a shelter in Romanian capital Bucharest after getting evacuated. (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: “We had lost all hope that we would be evacuated from Sumy and that is why we decided to walk on our own,” said Aashiq Hussain Sarkar, a sixth-year student of Sumy State University. “It was a do or die situation, but thankfully, the Indian government came to our rescue,” he added.

The Indo-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is assisting the Indian embassy in Poland, informed that the train carrying the students from Sumy will be received by Polish authorities at Przemysl station. “We anticipate no delay here as the main office in Warsaw has sensitised the local guards,” said the chamber in a statement.

Indian nationals who were stranded in Sumy
onboard a special train to Lviv in western
Ukraine on Wednesday

While students from universities across Ukraine reached the borders of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania on their own, those in Sumy were terrorised. The city is close to the Russian border where the war began. 

Aashiq said the route to Poltava was a tough one, as there were bombings and explosions all around and the bus stopped each time intermittently. “The train to Lviv was also running extremely slow,” he said.

The Indian embassy in Poland has arranged hotel rooms for the students. On Tuesday, buses were also arranged to take them to Poltava from Sumy. The embassy has also announced flight schedules for the returning students. One  flight each from Air India, one Air Force and IndiGo will bring the students back to India on Thursday. 

“We are grateful that our demands were met and the Indian government evacuated us,” said Pinaki Ranjan, a student of the same university. He was speaking to this daily while travelling to Lviv from Poltava on train. From Lviv they will cross over to Poland and catch a flight to India. 

Aashiq informed that along with the students, some Indians working in Sumy are also coming back in the special train arranged for the students. “A pharmacy owner who was providing us food items during these two weeks since the war started in Ukraine also boarded the train with us.”

Aashiq said that since the Indian students left the north-eastern Sumy city, Russian attacks on the city increased and around 50 people lost their lives in the bombing on Tuesday.

India is set to wind up on Thursday its evacuation mission 'Operation Ganga' that was launched 12 days ago to bring back Indian nationals following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Over 17,000 Indians, mostly students, have been evacuated so far under the mission.

The last flight is scheduled for Thursday evening, people familiar with the development said.

India is winding up Operation Ganga as the evacuation of almost all the stranded Indians in Ukraine would be completed by Thursday, the people said, adding the Indian mission will still continue to look for people who may have stayed back in some isolated pockets.

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.

"Nearly 8,000 Indians evacuated through Romania. The last special flight will depart from Bucharest today. We express our gratitude to government and people of Romania for their help. Long live India-Romania friendship!," the Indian embassy in Romania tweeted.

Around 600 Indian students, who were pulled out of war-torn Sumy city on Tuesday, are set to be brought back home on Thursday.

The people cited above said the mortal remains of an Indian who died of natural causes are being brought back.

Asked about reports that some Indians have submitted applications volunteering to join the International Legion created to fight Russian forces in Ukraine, the people only referred to the advisory by the Indian embassy in Kyiv asking the Indian nationals to leave that country immediately.

"It (advisory) should be applicable to anybody," said one of the persons.

The people also said that India would like its embassy in Ukraine to function as long as possible, but added that most of its officials may be based in the office set up in Lviv.

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.

(With PTI Inputs)

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