NEW DELHI: Government has brought back 22,500 Indians and 147 foreign nationals from Ukraine and will use the Russia route for the evacuation of students who are still stuck in South Ukraine, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
In a statement on the situation in the war-hit country, the minister said the students had delayed their return from Ukraine as some universities discouraged them and "confusing political signals'' were given there before the fighting started.
Jaishankar defended the government's stand on the Ukraine-Russia conflict, noting that India has called for an immediate cessation of violence and reiterated at the highest levels to all parties that there is no other choice but the path of diplomacy and dialogue.
The minister said 22,500 Indian citizens and 147 foreign nationals of 18 countries, including Nepal and Bangladesh, have been evacuated from Ukraine.
"There are some odd people, not in thousands, they are in double digits. We are tracking them. We have issued repeated advisories saying anybody who is left behind, please tell us wherever you are. At this moment we have an operation to get out some students who are stuck in the South (Ukraine) through the Russia route," Jaishankar said.
India prepared in advance of the actual conflict situation and started issuing advisories asking people to leave Ukraine, Jaishankar said, rebutting the Opposition's charge of delayed action by the government.
According to the minister, 20,000 Indian nationals registered with the Indian embassy in Ukraine after it started a registration drive. The minister said that 4,000 students left Ukraine through direct and indirect flights.
In view of the continued build-up of tension, the Indian Embassy issued an advisory on February 15, 2022 advising Indian nationals in Ukraine whose stay is not essential to leave the country temporarily. It also advised Indian nationals not to travel to Ukraine or to undertake non-essential within Ukraine, the minister said.
Further advisories were also given on February 20 and 22 pressing students to leave Ukraine. "Despite our efforts, however, a large majority of students elected to continue staying in Ukraine. We must understand the predicament in this regard. There was a natural reluctance to leave the educational institutions and affect the studies. Some universities actively discouraged and showed reluctance to offer online courses. Many of them received conflicting advice regarding safety," Jaishankar said.
He said that in the period leading to February 24, the political signals were confusing as well. "Public urgings not to be taken by alarmism and reports of force withdrawal created a confusing picture. The net result was that about 18,000 Indian nationals were caught in the midst of conflict when it started," Jaishankar said.
The minister said that students did what they thought is right under the circumstance. "The Sumy evacuation, which was the last one on a significant scale, was also extremely complex as our students faced the prospect of being caught in the crossfire. Their evacuation from the city needed a credible ceasefire, a daunting challenge in the current situation. This finally materialised due to the personal intervention of the Prime Minister himself with the Presidents of Ukraine and Russia," the minister said.
He said final year medical student of Kharkiv Medical University Naveen Shekarappa Gyanagaudar lost his life in the conflict zone and the government will bring back his mortal remains.
The minister said that the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has major economic implications and these can be seen in the rising prices of energy and commodities.
"The Ukraine conflict has major economic implications. Its impact on energy and commodity prices is already visible. The disruption of the global supply chain is expected to be significant. India has substantial dealings with both Russia and Ukraine," Jaishankar said.
He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine on multiple occasions and took up the issue of safe evacuation of Indian nationals, especially from Kharkiv and Sumy.
"The prime minister also spoke to the prime ministers of Romania, Slovak Republic and Hungary and the president of Poland to seek their support for facilitation of entry of Indian nationals to their countries. I most sincerely thank these partner nations for opening their doors and helping our citizens in our hour of need," Jaishankar said.
The minister said India has expressed deep concern about the worsening situation and called for an immediate cessation of violence and an end to all hostilities.
"Our statements at the Security Council and the General Assembly have urged an urgent ceasefire and ensuring safe passage for stranded civilians. We have reiterated at the highest levels of our leadership to all parties concerned that there is no other choice but the path of diplomacy and dialogue. We have emphasised to all member States of the UN that the global order is anchored on international law, UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of states," the minister said.