The emerging situation in eastern Ukraine is in danger of spiralling into a major crisis, India said at the United Nations on Thursday.

India’s Ambassador to the United Nations TS Tirumurti made the statement at an emergency meeting of the Security Council on the crisis in Ukraine. Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine citing alleged threats emanating from the country.

Tirumurti noted that at a Security Council meeting two days ago, India had called for de-escalation of tensions and had underlined the need for sustained and focused diplomacy.

“However, we note with regret, that the calls of the international community to give time to the recent initiatives undertaken by parties to defuse tensions were not heeded to,” he said. The envoy added that if the developments are not handled carefully, they may undermine the peace and security of the region.

“We call for immediate de-escalation and for refraining from any further action that could contribute to a worsening of the situation,” Tirumurti said. The envoy added that the “legitimate security interests” of all parties should be fully taken into account.

Tirumurti also said that more than 20,000 Indian citizens, including students, are in Ukraine. “We are facilitating the return of all Indian nationals, including students, as may be required,” he said.

On Thursday morning, soon after Putin announced the military operation, explosions could be heard from many parts of the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya claimed that the country’s operation was aimed at protecting people in the separatist regions of Ukraine “who for eight years have been cowering from Ukraine’s shelling”.

However, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday rejected Moscow’s allegation that his country posed a challenge to Russia and said that an invasion could lead to the loss of thousands of lives.

Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a conflict since 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed separatist rebellions in the country’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.