New Delhi: Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia welcomed the evacuees at the airport by handing out roses to them.
India on Saturday began the evacuation of its stranded citizens amid the Russian military offensive in Ukraine, with the first evacuation flight, AI1944, bringing back 219 people from Bucharest to Mumbai in the evening.
The second evacuation flight, AI1942, carrying 250 Indian citizens landed at the Delhi airport around 2.45 am on Sunday, the officials said.
Air India’s third evacuation flight, AI1940, which has departed from Hungarian capital Budapest, is also scheduled to return with 240 evacuees to Delhi on Sunday, they said.
Addressing the returnees, Scindia said, “I know you all have been through a very, very difficult time, a very, very trying time. But know this that the PM is with you at every step, the Indian government is with you at every step, and 130 crore Indians are with you at every step.” He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in touch with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and talks are being held so that everyone is brought home safely.
The minister said talks are also on with the Russian government and the Indian government will breathe easy only after each and every stranded Indian is evacuated from Ukraine.
“So, please pass on this message to all your friends and all your colleagues that we are with them and we will guarantee their safe passage back,” Scindia said.
“I welcome you all on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I would like to congratulate the team of Air India too, for putting in so much effort to bring you all back,” he added.
The Ukrainian airspace has been closed for civil aircraft operations since February 24 morning when the Russian military offensive began. Therefore, the Indian evacuation flights are operating out of Bucharest and Budapest.
Indian nationals who reached the Ukraine-Romania border and Ukraine-Hungary border were taken to Bucharest and Budapest, respectively, by road with the assistance of Indian government officials so that they could be evacuated in these Air India flights, the officials said.
The government is not charging the rescued citizens for the evacuation flights, they said.
Scindia told reporters at the airport terminal that approximately 13,000 Indians are stranded in Ukraine as of now.
“You know it is an extremely sensitive situation there (Ukraine). In this situation, we are talking with each Indian national, including students, through telecommunications,” he said.
“We will bring them back as soon as possible,” he said.
Air India shared on Twitter photos of Scindia receiving the evacuees at the airport.
“Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia receiving the Indian nationals who were flown back to Delhi from Bucharest by AI 1942 on February 27 early morning, operated to evacuate Indians stranded at war-ravaged Ukraine,” the airline said.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had said on February 24 that around 16,000 Indians, mainly students, were stranded in Ukraine.
The Indian Embassy in Ukraine said on Twitter on Saturday that Indian citizens in Ukraine should not move to any of the border posts without prior coordination with the Indian government officials there using the helpline numbers.
“The situation at various border checkpoints is sensitive and the Embassy is working continuously with our Embassies in our neighbouring countries for coordinated evacuation of our citizens,” it mentioned.
The Indian Embassy in Ukraine said it is finding it increasingly difficult to help the crossing of those Indian nationals who are reaching border checkpoints without prior intimation.
It said that staying in western cities of Ukraine with access to water, food, accommodation and basic amenities is relatively safer and advisable compared to reaching border checkpoints without being fully abreast of the situation.
“All those currently in the eastern sector are requested to continue to remain in their current places of residence until further instructions, maintain calm, and stay indoors or in shelters as much as possible, with whatever food, water and amenities available and remain patient,” it said.