Strengthening its efforts to evacuate around 12,000 Indian citizens—largely medical students—who are stuck in war-hit Ukraine, the government has decided to rope in the Indian Air Force (IAF) along with commercial flights for its “Operation Ganga” initiative. Sources told The Indian Express that the Air Force has been asked to send their transport aircraft as part of the evacuation efforts.
While there is no official word from either the government or the Air Force yet, it is expected to deploy its large C-17 Globemaster aircraft for the operation. The aircraft were also used for evacuation efforts from Afghanistan last year, after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021.
Air Force officials said that it was ready for any task that will be given to it.
The Indian Embassy in Ukraine issued an advisory on Tuesday asking all Indian nationals, including students, “to leave Kyiv urgently today. Preferably by available trains or through any other means available.”
Several videos emerged on social media in which Indian students stuck in Kyiv and Kharkiv, both witnessing intense fighting, and at the border with Poland and Romania, were seen asking for help. Many of them said they did not have enough food and water, and were not being allowed to cross the border. They had to spend nights in the open in freezing temperatures, they also said.
India is sending four Union Ministers to Ukraine’s neighbouring nations to supervise the evacuation efforts. Of the nearly 20,000 Indian nationals who were present in Ukraine, 8,000 managed to leave the country since its first advisory earlier this month. Approximately 12,000 Indians are still there, many trying to find their way home.
On Monday, Air India, IndiGo and Spice Jet announced special flights to bring the Indian backs. Air India has operated six flights till now from Delhi and Mumbai to Bucharest in Romania and Budapest in Hungary, which brought back 1,396 nationals.
Eight more flights are planned to the two airports in the coming days, with additional flights being planned from Warsaw in Poland.
IndiGo dispatched its aircraft to Bucharest and Budapest via Istanbul as part of the government’s “Operation Ganga” mission. Both these flights, operated on 222-seater Airbus A321neo aircraft, are expected to make a refuelling stop at Istanbul.
Similarly, a SpiceJet flight also departed for Budapest from Delhi on Monday, on the 189-seater Boeing 737 Max plane, will make a refuelling stop at Kutaisi in Georgia on its return leg.