As many as 674 Indian citizens, mostly students, were evacuated from Ukraine’s northeastern city of Sumy in three flights on Friday, reported PTI.
Two aircraft carrying 461 people landed at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport at 5.45 am and 12.20 pm. The third aircraft of the Indian Air Force with 213 passengers arrived at the Hindon air base in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad at 12.15 pm.
The Union government has not made any official statement if the evacuation process from Ukraine has been completed, but these three flights that took off from Poland’s Rzeszow city are considered among the last ones, according to PTI.
The students were stranded in the city amid shelling by the Russian forces and the government had been unable to rescue them. However, on Tuesday, Russian embassy established a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave besieged Ukrainian cities, including Sumy.
A humanitarian corridor is a temporary demilitarised zone that allows evacuations or transport of aid in a crisis-hit area.
The Union Ministry of External Affairs had then claimed that all the stranded students had left for the Ukranian city of Poltava, from where they would board trains to western part of the country. Flights were being arranged to bring them to India, the ministry had added.
At the Delhi airport on Friday, students and parents in tears hugging each other parents could be seen as they met following a long ordeal.
“Even now that I’m back in India, the situation that I have gone through will continue to haunt me for days,” said one of the students Dhruv Pandita. “Life in Sumy was terrible during the war. I never thought that I’ll make it to India alive.”
Pandita said that he and other students were confined to a bunker and had no food or water.
“We had to melt ice to get drinking water,” he told PTI. “We were not allowed to move from there.”
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Dhruv Pandita’s father Sanjay Pandita, a resident of Jammu and Kashmir, was at the airport to welcome his son.
“We have thought that we have lost him as he was held hostage,” he told PTI. “Though we were in touch with him, it looked that he is slipping from our hands. It’s his rebirth as we see him alive in India.”
Another student, Viradha Lakshmi, a resident of Kerala Thrissur city, landed at the Hindon air base with her three-year-old cat.
“I never wanted to leave my cat in Ukraine to die in bomb shelling,” she told PTI. “Our journey to Poland was halted due to security reasons and hence we reached Poland from Sumy in two days. We were not anticipating that we will survive.”
Medical student Mahima Rathi, a resident of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, said they had to run to the bunkers every time the air raid sirens blew.
“We were all very terrified as we never knew whether we would be able to survive and return safely,” she told PTI. “We are now at ease after returning to India.”
Hanna, a Kerala native, thanked the authorities for rescuing the students.
“We have been through a lot during the past few days and I thank everybody who took the initiative to bring us back home,” she said. “We have seen a lot including explosions in this short period of life.”
In a Twitter post, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar described the evacuation of students from Sumy as “particularly challenging”.
Jaishankar thanked the Russian and Ukrainian authorities and international humanitarian movement Red Cross for helping in the evacuation. He also expressed his gratitude to Ukraine’s neighbours – Romania, Poland, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary – for their assistance.
After Russia had begun its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the former Soviet country had closed its airspace for civilian aircraft. The students were being evacuated through these countries neighbouring Ukraine.
India has evacuated around 18,000 Indians under Operation Ganga, which was launched on February 26.