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Transcript of Special Briefing on Operation Ganga by Foreign Secretary Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla (February 27, 2022)

February 28, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good evening to all of you. Apologies for the delay. But as you know this is a live issue. We are here today on this very special briefing on the Operation Ganga that has been launched, to bring back our fellow brethren, citizens and students who are stranded in Ukraine. To give us the in depth analysis on a situation where we are and what is the details of the operation as it stands today, I have really a privilege as you can see, all the key people who are involved in it starting with of course, Foreign Secretary Sir Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla. I also have the privilege of having Shri Sanjay Verma, incoming Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, the two Joint Secretaries who are very closely dealing with it, Shri Balasubramanian, Joint Secretary (Administration) and Dr. Adarsh Swaika Joint Secretary looking after the Eurasia division. We will try to of course give you a sense of the various elements of the multi-pronged evacuation process, for that I would request our Foreign Secretary Sir just to make opening remarks and we also have a small map here to help you understand that, then we'll take a few questions. Thank you. Over to you Sir.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Namaskar and good evening. At our last press briefing, we did say that we will try and arrange as frequent briefings on the situation in Ukraine in particular regarding the wellbeing of our citizens as often as possible. So we appreciate your being here on a Sunday evening. As you know, Government of India has launched a multi prong evacuation plan titled Operation Ganga to evacuate our citizens stranded in Ukraine. This evacuation process will be at government cost given the emergency situation prevailing. You are also aware that our Embassy in Kiev as well as our ministry in Delhi had issued a number of advisories prior to the situation developing as we know it now, at that time requesting Indian citizens to leave Ukraine. 4,000 of our nationals had left before the conflict pursuant to these advisories. We estimated at that time that about 15,000 of our citizens were left in Ukraine when Op Ganga commenced. Since the airspace in Ukraine was closed after the conflict commenced, we identified land evacuation options through four neighbouring countries, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Specific border crossing points were identified with each of these countries and the MEA had deployed teams, Russian speaking officers to go there and to assist in the evacuation process. We had also asked our Embassy in Kiev and they established a 24/7 control room and we have done the same in our ministry in Delhi.

Now so far under Op Ganga a 1,000 of our citizens have been flown out of Romania and Hungary, and another 1, 000 have been evacuated from Ukraine through the land routes. In other words, 1000 of our students have crossed over from Ukraine into zones, which are conducive for their evacuation by air back to India. Flights for these evacuees are being organized and in a short while I'll show you the flights that we have planned over the next 24 to 48 hours. Border crossings to Hungary and Romania are functioning. However, the exit point to Poland is generally clogged from what we can see now due to lakhs of Ukrainian and foreign nationals trying to leave the country from that point. So this is a problem area and I'll come down to that as we go along.

We have tried to calibrate our evacuation plan taking into account let us say experience on the ground, certain border crossings are more effective some are obviously problematic. Those who are near the borders with Hungary, Romania and Slovak Republic are guided towards their respective border points in phases. Our Embassy in Kiev is operational. Obviously, hostilities in the area are making regular activity difficult. We are aware of a number of Indian citizens, particularly students who continue to be in cities in the East of Ukraine and the South East of Ukraine. Unfortunately, these areas continue to be live conflict areas, and it is generally deemed unsafe for people to move around freely, we will try to find suitable evacuation modalities for them too, once feasible. Our Embassy in Kiev has tried to maintain contact. We have also tried to maintain contact from Delhi but we keep issuing advisories to them as we go along.

Let me convey to friends that I today called in both the Envoys of Russia and Ukraine separately, conveyed to them our deep concerns on the safety and security of Indian citizens, particularly students based in Ukraine. I have shared with them, we have shared the locations where Indian students are concentrated and Indian citizens are concentrated for ensuring their protection. Both Ambassadors did take note of our concerns and assured us that they are very cognizant of the safety and security of Indian citizens in what is really a conflict zone in Ukraine. We have also contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, our permanent representative in Geneva has spoken to the President of the ICRC, the ICRC is commencing its operations in Ukraine, we have told them to please make sure that as and when they are operational, they should be cognizant of the needs of our citizens and wherever possible to escort them out. We have also shared with the ICRC or we are going to share with them the location of the main sort of areas where our communities are centered.

Let me take you to the screen. I don't know if you can see the map that we have here. I want to just briefly give you a sense of the overall plan in terms of evacuation. Just go back to the main map please. So here you can see that at the centre, you can see Kiev at the centre. Kiev is the capital, which is here. We have some approximately 2000 of our citizens in Kiev. The numbers are larger, but many of them have begun to move westwards. And earlier we had in our briefing we have told you that our two evacuation points were the Lviv, which is the exit point of Poland and we had also mentioned Chernivtsi, which is the exit point to Romania. Now, we had also pointed out that we will also activate the exit points to Hungary and to Slovakia. Now, as I just mentioned to you the one to Romania, which is in the South, has been generally functional, as has been the one to Hungary, the one to Poland, which is where Lviv is, is slightly problematic.

Now, you would have seen a tweet issued by our Embassy in Kiev just recently in which they have suggested that those of our citizens who are located in the Eastern area and including Kiev should start moving westwards to avoid areas of increasing conflict. And I'll just tell you, which are the areas that conflict is active in and come near the border points. We have also given advisories that it may be best for our students our citizens to come as close to the border as possible. There are various staging points where they should actually take shelter. You have to understand that it is quite cold there and they need to be in places where there is a roof over their head. So we've suggested they come to these border points and then follow the advice that we will give them very carefully as to where they can crossover. One of the points I'm happy to mention to you that we have identified is Uzhhorod which is right here. Now Uzhhorod is a point that is well connected by rail and we are suggesting this because it gives an alternative to the border point crossing into Poland.

Today, from what I can see many of our citizens have been stuck for long periods of time in the crossing over into Poland. As I mentioned earlier, it is because this is the main border crossing there are not just 1000s there are probably lakhs of people trying to cross over. It is not an organized situation. It is a conflict zone. Many of our people have been there for a long time and I think they are in very, very difficult situations, we fully empathize and we've been working round the clock to see what options we can provide. Now one of the options that we have seen that in the event of the fact that we can't make much progress into Poland, we come down to Uzhhorod and from Uzhhorod, every two hours, there is from a place called Chop, every two hours there is a train, which will take you straight to Budapest, in Hungary, it's about a seven to eight hours’ journey, including exit procedures. So this is a direct train and this might be an option that we are recommending to our people. So let me summarize what I'm saying is that we are asking our citizens to move westwards. There are also trains from Kiev, there are other options that you can take road and rail, move towards the West, take the most appropriate border staging points as areas that you can move out from and then leave the country in accordance with the advisories that we will issue.

Now as we have groups of our citizens who are crossing the border, all along on these four countries, we have our teams, embassy teams that are there to assist them in the border crossings and in each and every of these countries. And as we speak, we are also sending more people to these embassies to facilitate that process. We have a problem staying in the places within Ukraine because we've been asked to move out from the area. We have to as I said, remember that there is a martial law in Ukraine, that there is a situation which is not normal and as a result of which we are not exactly in control of how we can operate and what we can do. The other modification we made is that we had shared the cell numbers of our mobile teams that are in operations along the border areas. We found that it was not feasible for our teams to both function, as well as to take calls. So we have established hotlines in each of our embassies in each of the areas of four countries that are involved and those hotlines will be the interface between our citizens and those of our teams that are actually there to assist in the border points and facilitate the crossings. The ministry would also take out a 24/7 hotline, which would be open in terms of social media, we would provide inputs, advisories, guidance as often as possible. So please look out for that.

Now, let me also point out that the area around Kiev seems to be a conflict area. The area in the East of Ukraine which is Kharkiv, Sumy and down of course, these are all conflict areas. And then if you come down towards the Crimea, you see the Odessa area these are conflict areas. And here obviously, our advice is to stay as carefully within shelters as possible, unless we have advised otherwise. We have sent a team now that is the latest development, our External Affairs Minister has spoken to the Foreign Minister of Moldova, yesterday he spoke to the Foreign Minister of Hungary and we will have a team in Moldova in place by tomorrow morning. This team will facilitate the crossings of our citizens who are around Odessa and that area, because that is a problematic area also and we will try and facilitate the crossing into Moldova and then Romania where they can be picked up to be brought back to India. So, this will give you a very brief sense of the lay of the land and how we plan to ensure that we get as many of our citizens out as quickly as possible, in as orderly a manner given the within the constraints the situation that is unfolding before us.

Here you can see location of our various MEA teams that are in different parts of the country essentially along the borders with Hungary and Slovakia with Poland and down with Romania and Moldova. These are where our teams are located. They keep going in and out of Ukraine, but they are along the border areas there. These are all the flights that you have. You see four flights have already concluded, four flights are either brought or bringing people back as we speak. There are another two flights, which are going to be leaving tonight and tomorrow. And there is a range of flights that we have already scheduled and essentially, our plan is to ensure that as we have a number of our citizens in any of the points that are there, a flight is ready even while before they get there. So the idea is to minimize the time that they have to spend at the airport, we have through our Ministry of Civil Aviation, and with the cooperation of all the airlines organized a number of aircraft that are ready to go at short notice to pick up our citizens and bring them back to Delhi.

So we also wanted to give you a sense that the fact that this is not the easiest situation that we can deal with, I know that there is a lot of concern from the point of view of parents, family members of those who are there. The Ministry of External Affairs, under the direct supervision of the External Affairs Minister, and the overall guidance of the Prime Minister is doing everything possible to make sure that the safety, security and the interests of our citizens in Ukraine are given the highest priority. The essential points that we wanted to make was that we are innovating on the ground as we speak, we are taking the steps necessary that would ensure that we have the best possible options before us as we keep moving along. One more point, which I wanted to add, see if you go to the areas of Kharkiv and Sumy in the eastern part of Ukraine, now these are conflict areas, and we have asked our people to stay as safe and secure as possible. But we have also sent a team from our embassy in Moscow down to the border areas to prepare for the eventuality where they can be evacuated from there. In other words, we are arranging accommodation, we are mapping out routes, we are looking at transport. So we are doing what we can to get them out as and when we can. I already mentioned that the International Committee of the Red Cross is also working with us and they will also be on the ground there. This is a conflict zone and we have to be very cognizant to that factor but my conversation with both the Ukrainian as well as the Russian ambassadors was reassuring and I think I got every sense that we will get their fullest support when it comes to the interest and wellbeing of our citizens in Ukraine. I will stop there.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much, sir. That was very comprehensive presentation I'm sure. I can see some hands going. Take a few questions. Let me start with you since you raised your hand first.

Neeraj: Sir, Neeraj News18 India se, 2 sawal hain Poland ke Border se bahut aisi khabren aai ki bahut sare bharatiye chhatra jo hai vahan jama ho gaye hain unako nikalane ke liye kya koshish ho rahi hai Aur abhi aapne ek mahatvapoorn baat ki. Abhi hum thodi der pehale airport par the vahan bahut sare log kah rahe the ki Bharat aisa kyon nahi karta ki Russia ke raste bahut sare chhatron ko nikalata, jo Kharkiv mein jo phanse hain, jo Sumy mein jo phanse hain, to aapne jo jikra kiya tha ki aapki team vahan us ilaake mein bhi pahunch gayi hai, border area mein, usko hamare samne hindi mein bhi rakh den kyonki jo log hain bahut saare log Haryana se, hindi-bhashi pradeshon ke hein woh janana chahte hain ki Roos se aakhir kyon nahi koshish ki ja rahi hai, Roos k madhyam se? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, Neeraj from News 18 India, there are 2 questions. There were reports from the border of Poland that a lot of Indian students have gathered there. How are you trying to get them out and you have just said an important thing. We were at the airport a while ago, there were a lot of people saying why India doesn't do this. They could have evacuated a lot of students through Russia who are stranded in Kharkiv, who are stranded in Sumy, then what you mentioned was that your team has reached that area there also, in the border area, put it in the Hindi before us also because those who are from Haryana, those from the Hindi speaking states want to know why there is no attempt from Russia, through Russia?

Sidhant: Sir Sidhant from WION. My question is there are reports of Indian students being attacked by the forces on the Ukrainian side especially when it comes to border with Poland. If you can give some details is it true or in a sense that the MEA teams are reaching out to the authorities so that violence is not used against these Indian students.

Madhurendra: Sir, Madhurendra News Nation se, Mera sawal hai ki operation ganga ki taja sthiti kya hai? Agar aap vistar se batain kitne Indian abhi tak nikale ja chuke hain aur kitane abhi tak shesh hain aur hamare plan ke mutabik kitna samay or lagega is purey operation ko complete karne mein? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, I am from Madhurendra News Nation. My question is, what is the latest status of Operation Ganga? Please tell me in detail how many Indians have been evacuated and how many are yet to be evacuated and according to our plan, how much time will it take to complete this entire operation?

Srinjoy: Sir you spoke about the situation in the East and South East of Ukraine, they said like Kharkiv. Now, you tell us please, how many Indians including students are there in an area that you would say is East of Ukraine or Southeast of Ukraine of the 15,000 or 14,000 there?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Neeraj ji aapka jo prashn tha, aapne yeh poochha ki jo ilaake Roos ke aspas honge, Ukraine ke jo ilaake hain, unmen jo hamare nagrik hain, un ke evacuation ka kya plan hai toh iss mein mainne aapko bataya ki hamare Embassy jo Moscow mein hain, wahan ki ek team jo ki hamare First Secretary aur uss level ke logon ko hamane bheja hai taki jitana bhi vo area hai vahan ka puri tarah mapping ho jaye. Wahan ke logon se milkar jo intjam hamein advance mein karne hain, transportation ka intjam, rehane ka intajam, khane-peene ka intjam, vo sub pehale se hum taiyaar karen, abhi to yeh conflict zone hai jaise hamein suchana milega ki iss area se hamare nagariko ko evacuate kar sakte hain to wo Op Ganga wahan par operational ho jayega. Humari yah ummeed hai aur maine aapko kaha ki meree aaj donon Ukrainian ambassador aur Russian raajdoot se bhi mulakat hui. Unko maine yahi poori tarah mainne unka samarthan maanga ki jo hamare naagarik hain Ukraine mein, Unki dekhbhaal, unki suraksha yeh hamare liye 100% priority hai aur unko bhi iss ka poori tarah dhyaan dena hoga. To unhonne mujhe aashvaasan diya ki wo sab unki taraf se jo kuchh kar sakte hain stheetee dekhate hue weh jaroor karenge. Hamaare jo log hain, unnki jo safety aur unke jo Evacuation procedures hein uss par bhi un ki taraf se poori tarah hamein samarthan aur sahaayata milegi. Aap ne Poland ke border ke baare mein baat kiya. Uss mein humane dekha ki kaafi hamaare students, hamaare naagarik hain jo vahaan par phanse hue hain, kyonki yah mein border Crossing hai. Laakhon log is border crossing se nikal rahe hain Ukraine se baahar. Wahaan par kaafi bheed lagee huee hai, kaafi Traffic Jam lage hue hain. To usamen sthiti mein kaafi delays ho rahe hain aur yeh hamaare naagarikon ke liye kaafi pareshaani dila rahee hai, to ham in ke saath sampark mein hain, hamaare naagarikon ke saath jo vahaan par hain. Jaisa maine aapako bataaya hamaara ek Plan-B bhee hai jisamein hamne kaha ki ek jagah hai Uzhhorod jo ki Hungary aur Slovakia ki seema ke aas paas mein hai. Wahaan se train bhi hai Budapest ke liye, vahaan se transport ki arrangements bhi hain. To aaj hi meri hamaare Rajdoot jo hain Budapest mein un see baat hui hai. Unhonne kaha ki main poora intjaam kar raha hoon taaki hamaare jitane bhee naagrik Uzhhorod ki taraf se jaein unke lie kuchh shelter milega, kuchh bandobast honge wahaan par aur jaise hi ye trains ya to by rail ya road ham inn ko nikaal sakte hain wahaan se. Uss ilaake se hum in ko evacuate karke Hungary mein la kar ke wapas by air Bharat bhejenge. To mera jo kehna ki pareshani to ho rahein hain aur kafi taklif bhi hui hei hamare nagrikon ko par jitna hum kar sakte hain ki in ki pareshaaniyaan door karein aur jitana jaldi madad aur sahaayata mile hum uss par lage hue hain aur mujhe lagta hai ki ek-do din mein jo bhi hai ham inn ko, jo hamare naagrik vahaan par hain, ham in ko evacuate kar denge. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Neeraj ji, you raised a question, you asked that the areas which are around Russia, the areas of Ukraine, what is the plan of their evacuation, then I told you that our Embassy which is in Moscow, a team which we have sent with First secretary and people of this level so that whatever area is there, it is completely mapped out. The arrangements that we have to make in advance by meeting the people there, the arrangements for transportation, the arrangements of boarding, the arrangements of lodging, we should prepare all these things in advance. It's a conflict zone right now. As soon as we get information that if we can evacuate our citizens from this area, then Op Ganga will become operational there. This is our expectation and I told you that I also met both the Ukrainian Ambassador and the Russian Ambassador today. I asked them for their full support to our citizens in Ukraine, their care, their safety is 100% priority for us and they also have to pay full attention to it. So they assured me that whatever they can do from their side, they would definitely do it considering the situation. We will get full support and assistance from their side on the safety of our people and the evacuation procedures they have. You were talking about Poland border. There we saw that there are many of our students, our citizens who are stuck there because it is the main border crossing. Millions of people are leaving this border crossing out of Ukraine. It is very crowded there, there are lot of traffic jams. So there are lot of delays in the situation and it's causing a lot of trouble for our citizens, so we're in touch with them, with our citizens who are out there. As I told you we also have a Plan-B in which we said that there is a place Uzhhorod which is around the border of Hungary and Slovakia. There is also a train from there to Budapest, from there, there is also a transport arrangement. So today I spoke to our ambassador who is in Budapest. He said that I am making all arrangements so that all our citizens who go from Uzhhorod side will get some shelter, some arrangements will be made there and as soon as these trains are there, they reach either by rail or road, they can be taken out from this area. From there we will evacuate them and bring them back to India from Hungary. So, what I have to say is that our citizens are facing a lot of trouble. But we are doing our best to safeguard them from problems and help is provided to them at the earliest, we are working on it and I think in a day or two whatever we can, our citizens, who are there, we will help them and will evacuate them.

Sidhant your question was about Indians facing problems on the Poland border. I had a specific conversation with the Ambassador of Ukraine on that issue and he has been very kind, in fact, his Deputy Chief Mission is working round the clock only to help our people on that area. They are calling up people who are from their border and immigration authorities on that point, they are talking to their people in Kiev but you have to understand their preoccupations are in a different way, but they have been very, very, I would say helpful and I did tell them that we expect in every way that they would assist in facilitating the safe and to the extent possible hassle free evacuation of our citizens. So we are working on it. Please bear with us that it's a difficult situation, it's a conflict zone, there are priorities that are elsewhere. within those constraints, we will do everything possible to get our people out. Our team is working flat out to get that objective achieved.

Madhurendra Ji, aapne Op Ganga pe ek general sawal poochhaa, Ukraine mein tanav ke sthiti ubharte hi aapko pata hai ki Bharat sarkar ne bharatiyon ko aur khaskar se humare students ko surakshit wapas lane ke liye Operation Ganga shuru kar diya hai. Jaisa ki aap jaante hain Ukraine ke pashchimi illaake se bharatiyon ko padosi desh jaise ki Romania, Hungary, Poland or Slovakia ganatantra ke raste se bahar nikala ja raha hai. Inn seemaon k nazdeek camp office tainat ki ja rahi hain aur seemaon par hamaari or mantralaya ki team 24 ghante vahan per maujud hain. Abhi tak 1000 se adhik logon ko Romania or Hungary ke raste se surakshit nikal kar wapas laya ja chuka hai or in border point mein se bharatiyon ko desh se bahar nikalane ki prakriya jari hai. Aapne dekha hoga ki inn seemaon per bahar nikalane ke liye bahut bhari matra se log jama or ukrainian immigration ko process karne mein deri ho rahi hai. Isska ek karan bhi jaise mainne bataya abhi ki Ukraine wahan per Martial law bhi lagi hui hai or isske karan se kuchh wahan per delays ho rahe hain. To Op Ganga ke shuruat achchhi tarah hui hai. 4 Flights wahan se nikal gaye hain, 2 flights aaj wahan se ravana honge or mainne aapko screen par dikhaya ki kafi saare flights schedule ho gaye hain agle 24 ghanton ke liye aur uske baad bhi hamare advance planning ho raha hai jiss se jaise hamare nagrik Ukraine se nikalte hain unko jahaj men bithha ke hum Bharat wapas le aana chahte hain jaldi se jaldi. Jaldi se jaldi wapas le aana chahte hain.(Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Madhurendra ji, you asked a general question on Op Ganga. As soon as the situation of tension emerged in Ukraine, you know that the Government of India has started Operation Ganga to bring back Indians and especially our students safely. As you know, Indians from the western part of Ukraine are being driven out through neighbouring countries such as Romania, Hungary, Poland and the Republic of Slovakia. Camp offices are being set-up near these borders and our team and the ministry team are there 24 hours a day at the borders. So far, more than 1,000 people have been evacuated safely through Romania and Hungary and the process of evacuating Indians from these border points is underway. You may have noticed that a very large number of people have gathered there and there are delays in processing by Ukrainian immigration. One of the reasons for this is that just as I said that there is martial law in Ukraine and because of this, some delays are taking place there, still Op Ganga has started well. Four Flights have already left. Two flights will leave today and as I showed you on the screen that a lot of flights have been scheduled for the next 24 hours and even after that, our advance planning is taking place so that as soon as our citizens leave Ukraine, we want to get them back to India as soon as possible. We want to get them back as soon as possible.

Srinjoy you had a question on the number of citizens in East and Southeast of Ukraine. It is difficult to estimate numbers but I would say at least a couple of thousand of our citizens are in that area spread out between Kharkiv, Sumy and the areas of Southeast Ukraine including Odessa. I did mention our plans for securing their return. I think the Odessa area, Moldova offers us as an option. I did mention that when our External Affairs Minister spoke to the Moldovian Foreign Minister he was very reassuring and I think we should be able to use that route to facilitate the evacuation of our citizens from that area of South Eastern Ukraine. Our team from MEA which has gone will be in place in Moldova tomorrow morning. Similarly, we are looking at facilitating some evacuation from the Eastern side, our teams from Moscow have gone across to the border areas. We will do what we can in this, at this juncture.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Next round of questions. Okay. Please.

Prashant: Sir I am Prashant from Asianet News. Actually in Kharkiv, Sumy areas lot of students are now in bunker and many of them are complaining that they are not getting enough food or water and they have left with food or water for just one or two days. So what we can do for this and also are you advising the students who are now in the Poland border to come to the Hungarian border because at least 2,000 students are there near the Poland border according to our information.

Devi Rupa: Sir Devi Rupa from the Wire, this is regarding yesterday PM spoke to the Ukrainian President and expressed deep anguish in the loss of lives. So can we like expect India to condemn the Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine? Thanks.

Kallol: The Indian Prime Minister has said that India is willing to do anything that it takes to establish peace in that region. So is it possible that India would like to extend a helping hand to Mr. Zelenskyy and probably perhaps, because he's looking for a neutral venue for meeting the Russian representatives. Could India provide that venue? I am Kallol from the Hindu.

Meghana: I’m Meghana from DD News. Many countries have already shut their embassies in Kiev and pertaining to the dire situation there do we have plans, of shifting our embassy because the situation is getting even worse?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: You have the last question. Anybody has the questions. No , ok . Then we will just finish it with this.

Ranjana: Sir Ranjana from UNI. You said a team from Moscow is going. So are they going to Kharkiv? Like, are they entering Kharkiv because Russian forces has entered, there's a lot of explosions and tensions so are they entering Kharkiv? Because according to students there when we saw the videos, one student said there were 7,000 Indian students in Kharkiv that is what he said and they have run out of food and water. So is the team from Moscow going to enter Kharkiv or in the surrounding areas? Because that is a conflict zone. And secondly, according to some estimate by somebody else, that there are not 20,000 but there were 24,000 or 25,000 Indians that is what I think I've got on DD news, some officials say that. So is that true?

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: So let me start by answering what Asianet news, Prashant said. Now, in Kharkiv, itself, originally, there were some 4,000 students, as far as we know, who were studying in that area, we also understand that at least half of them have moved westwards and are not there now. Those who are there obviously, is a matter of high priority for us, because that is a conflict area and they are from what we can see, they're in safe areas, they're in shelters, they're in bunkers, they are as secure as they can be. Today, I was told by the message I met that, you know, at least that the Ukrainian Ambassador told me that they had provided for food and water and other provisions and continue to do that, to the extent that they can. Clearly you know, this is a matter of, I would say, concern for the entire population in general, I mean, you know, any civilians in a conflict area, would have apprehension, not just for safety and security, but also of making sure that they have adequate provisions, etc. So, that is one aspect of it. As far as Poland is concerned I did mention that there are quite a few of our people who had tried to take that exit out, that is proving quite difficult. So, if we can make progress there, that is fine but we have given an option, which is to go to the other points because really, we must improvise and do what we can in those circumstances. And we should see where things are working well. We have seen that Uzhhorod, which I did mention, does offer you the option of taking a train straight out and we should look at that possibility. We have tasked our Ambassador in Budapest to make arrangements for accommodation, shelter, and also to see how we can arrange for people to be facilitated from there. So we hope that that will offer a viable alternative. As I told you, a good number of our people we are talking about at least a couple of 1,000 people who are already successful in exiting Ukraine through other border points, a few 100 have also got out from the Polish border point, but that is proving to be a little more challenging.

As far as, I think Devi Rupa’s question is concerned well, you know that in the UN Security Council, we have conveyed deep regret at the evolving situation, we have also definitely pointed out that loss of human lives is not acceptable. But at the same time, I think we have said that diplomacy and dialogue are the only options and clearly from that perspective, I think our position has remained consistent when it comes to dealing with the current situation at hand. I think Kallol’s question was also, really whether we are providing some sort of helping hand, look we have been engaged with all parties, I mean, our Prime Minister has spoken to Presidents of Russia and Ukraine, the External Affairs Minister has been in touch with a very wide range of interlocutors who are involved in this situation. Today, I separately met both the envoys of Russia and Ukraine. We are essentially, I would say, a country that has not only direct interests in the region, we have friends, we have equities in the area, we have every reason to believe that we should be in touch with all concerned and if we can play if there's any way that anyone can contribute not just us, but anyone can contribute to alleviating what is a difficult situation I'm sure they would do what it takes.

I think Meghana Ji had asked about whether our Embassy in Kiev is being shifted. The fact of the matter is that for us, our citizens come first. I mean, we are all diplomats, we represent the country, we serve our country but the fact of the matter is that every citizen of ours is important. That is what we are there for. And our Embassy will ensure that all of our citizens are evacuated out of Kiev and they are working on that very assiduously even as we speak. So let us see how we can achieve that, how we can get our students to move westwards, what are the best options, they are looking at trains, they're looking at buses, they're looking at whatever options there are, perhaps staying there is not something that would be an option, given the increased fighting in the area but we will have to see what we can do to get our people safely out as soon as possible. And finally, you know, the question of the numbers. Whether you know, we are talking about 7,000 students in Kharkiv, or whether it's 4,000, or whether the total number is 25,000, 20,000 it's a moot point, the important thing is, we have citizens out there, we are in touch with large groups of our citizens, there are also coordinators, there are also those who look after student’s affairs and who we are in contact with and it's important that we try and make sure that that communication is continued. As I said, we are increasingly moving to more effective methods of communicating with our citizens in Ukraine. We will have all of these dedicated helplines in different countries and those helplines will connect them with our teams that are constantly moving along the border areas. So, all I can say is we will make the best of a difficult situation. And if a few thousand of our citizens are already out, I think we will make sure that the rest also will come back very safely in line with the implementation of Operation Ganga.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much Sir. I would like to also appreciate the presence of Shri Sanjay Verma, incoming Secretary (West), as well as Joint Secretary Balasubramanian (Administration) and Dr. Adarsh Swaika Joint Secretary (Eurasia). Please note that this is a very evolving situation and our social media handles, our websites, our Facebook pages and other social media accounts of our Embassies in Kiev, in Budapest, in Slovakia, in Romania, as well as in Poland are issuing advisories. Please monitor that, of course the Ministry of External Affairs’ handles. We will try to collate as Foreign Secretary announced through new handles so that it makes it easier and I do hope that you will continue to watch MEA handles. Thank you.

Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Just want to add that we will do a daily briefing. I think Joint Secretary (XP) will do a briefing on a daily basis so that you get whatever is the latest news so it'll give you an update authentically from the XP side and so please stay tuned to our daily readout of the situation. Thank you.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you. Namaskar. Good evening.

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