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Transcript of Special Briefing on Operation Ganga by the Official Spokesperson (March 02, 2022)

March 03, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good evening to all of you. Thank you very much for joining us today for the special briefing on the developments in situation in Ukraine. It's more of a briefing on what's happened since yesterday. We had the privilege of having Foreign Secretary here with us to explain the situation. I'll just take you on what I think are some of the interesting developments and we'll have a brief round of questions but please bear with me that we can't spend too much time here as the situation is quite live. First of all, I'm happy to inform that there has been a sharp increase in the number of Indians who have left Ukraine over the recent past. We now estimate that nearly 17,000 Indian nationals have left Ukraine's borders since our advisories were issued. This of course, includes some Indians who had not registered with the embassy earlier. So the 17,000 is a pretty high number, as you remember, Foreign Secretary mentioned number of, I think around 12,000 yesterday. Flights under Operation Ganga have also increased sharply. During the last 24 hours, six flights have landed in India, taking the total number of flights that have landed in India to 15 and the total number of Indians who have returned on these flights to 3,352. I'm also happy to share that as many as 15 flights, remember 6 flights last 24 hours, but 15 flights are scheduled over the next 24 hours. Some of these are already actually en route. So 15 flights over the next 24 hours, some of which, as I said are already en route.

Indian Air Force aircraft have now joined Op Ganga with the first C17 flight from Bucharest, expected to return to Delhi or land in Delhi from Bucharest later tonight. Three more Indian Air Force flights will be undertaken today from Budapest, Bucharest and Rzeszow in Poland. Now moving on to the situation there in Ukraine, the cities in eastern Ukraine remain areas of concern for us, continuing violence there. There are encouraging reports that some students were able to board trains out of Kharkiv yesterday night, today morning and we assisted in this process through the student contractors and other partners. As you know, we have been in communication with the Russian side regarding safe passage of our nationals from Kharkiv and other nearby cities. The advisory that has just been issued by our embassy a little while ago and also by us on the need for our nationals to leave Kharkiv immediately is on the basis of information received from Russia. We would urge all our nationals to leave Kharkiv immediately to the safe zones or further westwards using any means available, including on foot and keeping safety in mind.

Now moving on to the Western side or the western borders of Ukraine, you would have seen the advisory put out today morning by our embassy in Warsaw regarding the movement across the Poland- Ukraine border, Indian nationals were advised to head to the Budomierz border point for a relatively quicker entry into Poland avoiding the Shehyni-Medyka border crossing that continues to be congested. I'm happy that is actually working out quite well and the more people are leaving through that, of course those who do cross the border on their own, can directly proceed to a reception point on the Polish side that was indicated in that advisory. We are also trying to make arrangements for shelter and food in towns near the borders and requesting students not to go to those borders directly as we said over the last couple of days. Now with the arrival of Indian officials at the Embassy of India's Lviv office, this process will be strengthened and we should be able to assist people crossing the borders.

A mechanism for issuing emergency certificates to those who have lost their Indian passports has been instituted. I think this will also help many Indian students. Evacuation through Slovak Republic and Hungary border crossings also is proceeding steadily, but we urge students there also not to reach the border points for example at Chop directly to avoid this long waiting times. They are requested to coordinate with our teams and follow the advisories. I'm happy to share that evacuation through Moldova has also picked up particularly after our team at Chisinau has become operational. From Moldova, evacuees are taken to Bucharest to catch the Op Ganga flights.

On the border areas, as well as in capital cities of Ukraine's neighbours I mean, Bucharest, Budapest etc. our teams have made arrangements for food and accommodation for evacuees, till they depart for India. With the large number of flights that are now being organized, this period will shorten and hopefully soon, they will be able to leave for India once they have crossed the border. Prime Minister’s special envoys have reached the countries, neighbouring Ukraine, and you've seen the information on that, and are coordinating efforts first-hand there and we will be sharing information on that also.

I mentioned about our embassy and I had received a few queries on this issue. The Embassy was asked to set up a temporary office in Lviv, as I mentioned, to facilitate border crossings by Indian nationals. A substantial segment of our Embassy team is now at Lviv for this purpose. The other segment, location of the other segment of the Embassy team is dynamic. We are exploring other options. So we are exploring options for them to actually reach eastern Ukraine to assist the evacuation of citizens who are stuck, as you know, on the Eastern Ukraine who are stuck once they come out to this, let’s say Kharkiv, we're seeing if our teams can reach there, it's not easy because the route is not open all the time but as I said, the location of that segment of the Embassy team as I mentioned is dynamic.

Moving on to the humanitarian assistance that we have announced, by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary informed you yesterday humanitarian aid in the form of medicines, medical equipment, tents, blankets, solar lamps, other material is being sent to Ukraine in tranches. The first tranche of basically medicines I think about two tons of it was sent yesterday ,today it was second, it was sent yesterday through Poland, and is being handed over there. And we expect three more tranches which will have tents, blankets, sleeping mats, etc. I think it's about 16 tons each shipment or something, will be sent today by the Indian Air Force flight, one of them, and other one to Romania and I think by some other airline to Poland. I will end here by saying that the MEA control room as well as the control centers operated by our embassies continue to operate 24/7 basis. The MEA control room has now attended 9,874 calls nearly 10,000 calls and responded to 7,657 emails. I think that gives a good flavour of what is going on. I know you'll have questions so let me open the floor.

Speaker 1: (.......inaudible)

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
Dekhiye abhi hamne dekha hoga kuchh hi der pahale hamari Embassy ne advisory jari ki hai jisamein hamare nagrik, hamare chhatra jo Kharkiv sheher mein hai, Kharkiv ki baat kar raha hoon specifically, Kharkiv shahar mein unko kaha gaya hai ki aap nikal lein vahan se shaam ke 6 baje Local time ke pahale, or teen jagah batai gayi hain. Mere pas uske kuchh detail bhi hai, main batata hoon, naam hai mere pass, hamare Press release mein hain, vahan pe chale jain, wo karib 15 kilometre railway station se dur hai, kisi bhi tarah se vahan chale jaye hamari aagrah hogi, taki vahan pay safe rahen, ye safe zones hame bataye gaye hain. Hamein malum hai kuchh dikkatein aa rahi hai jo students hai wahan pay nikalne mein ye svabhavik hai aur hum unse coordination kar rahe hain student coordinators se. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Just a short while ago, our Embassy has issued an advisory in which our citizens, our students who are in the city of Kharkiv, talking about Kharkiv in particular, they have been told that you should leave before six o'clock local time in the evening and three places have been identified. I also have some details of it, I tell you, the name is with me, in our press release, go there, it is about 15 kilometers away from the railway station, we urge people to go and stay safe there. These safe zones have been told to us. We know that there are some problems that the students are facing, it is natural, and we are coordinating with them through the student coordinators.

Now, let me take questions in a more organized manner, please.

Neeraj:Neeraj News India 18 se, aapne kaha ki Russian input pay aadharit ye advisory hai, kis tarah ka input hai, kya unki taraf se ashwasan diya gaya hai ki safe passage diya ja raha hai, uske baad ye advisory jari key gai hai taki Russian Border se wo nikal sakein ya khatra Kharkiv pe badh gaya hai, is tarah ka koi inputs khufiya aap log ke paas hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation)Neeraj, from News India 18, you said that this is an advisory based on Russian input, what kind of input is it, whether it has been assured from their side that safe passage is being given, after that this advisory has been issued so that they can get out of the Russian border or the threat has increased on Kharkiv, are such secret intelligence inputs available with you?

Kamaljeet:
Sir, this is Kamaljeet Sandhu and I’m from India Today. Sir, has Russia given an assurance regarding safe passage and is the time till 21:30 today? Is there a three-hour window for all the students and Indians to walk away to the nearest point at least 15 kilometres away as you were mentioning?

Sidhant: Sidhant from WION. How many Indians are there in the conflict zone, especially in the city of Kharkiv? Any number if you can give us.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
How many you said right?

Sidhant: Yes, Sir.

Meghna Dev: Sir, I’m Meghana Dev from DD News. I wanted to know there are three locations that have been given for students to reach. So is there any strategy or people are figuring out what is going to be the onward journey, where they'll go from there?

Vijayalakshmi
: Main Vijayalakshmi hoon India TV se, ek aur chhatra ki maut ki khabar wahan par aa rahi hai uske baare mein kis tarah ki jankari hai, Chandan Jindal? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) I am Vijayalakshmi from India TV, the news of the death of another student is coming from there, what kind of information is there about Chandan Jindal?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:Dekhiye Neeraj se shuru karta hoon, aapne kaha yeh Russi inputs hai, khufiya to pata nahi kuchh par (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Let's start with Neeraj, you said these are Russian inputs, is there any secret intelligence input, i don't know about that.

Kamaljeet also asked about the assurances. Look, let me repeat what I said. We have issued this advisory based on inputs that the Russian side has given, we haven't chosen these locations, we haven't chosen the time. These are based on inputs that as you know, we've been saying and Foreign Secretary has said, External Affairs Minister also had raised, Prime Minister also raised conveyed to his counterparts of the need for a mechanism to safely evacuate our citizens, our nationals. Our advisory is based on inputs that we have received from the Russian side. I can't say anything beyond this because I think that's pretty self-evident. So those questions, I think that addresses that. Meghana your question is also similar, the three locations that you mentioned, there is no particular strategy as such. These were locations that are reasonably close and we feel these are safe zones and the request is to see if they can move there. Yes, I understand the difficulties, understand some places, some people are reporting some difficulties of various kinds, including violence continuing but look we will work with that, we are in touch with the student coordinators and this advisory we would urge everyone to take seriously and leave.

Sidhant you mentioned, how many people, it's a very difficult question to answer. We've been trying to give you assessments of where people are, I don't think it will be an appropriate and accurate considering that you're asking people to move out. As I mentioned, we had an original number of about 20,000 who are registered, our sense is that the number of people who are there were little more than who had registered, because we have now a broad understanding that about 17,000 people or near 17,000 people have left. So there would have been a little more to begin with who may not have registered but obviously we will bring back every Indian who's there. So I know that some people left last night from Kharkiv in some trains, today morning. So I think instead of looking at those numbers, let's see whoever is left. Let's see if we can get them all in. As you know, in Kiev, we managed to do that. Fingers crossed that Kharkiv also continues the same way.

Vijayalakshmi ji aapne jikra kiya ek Indian student jiske baare mein ,mere paas kuchh isamen khabar hai. Chandan Jindal ek student Vinnitsa mein padh rahe the, aaj unki maut ho gai, Our condolences to the family. par yeh natural causes k vajah se hui hai, vah kafi din se hospital mein the or unake saath unake family member hain ukraine mein, unake saath or hamari taraf se hamari shok, our deepest condolences. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Vijayalakshmi ji, you mentioned an Indian student, I have some news on this, Chandan Jindal was a student studying in Vinnitsa, he died today due to natural causes. Our condolences to the family. He was in the hospital from many days and his family members were with him in Ukraine and our deepest condolences to them.

Let me go on to the next set of questions.

Anand Shah: Myself Anand Shah. I represent the New India. Sir yesterday you mentioned about the negotiation. What sort of negotiation is this and what kind of back channel diplomacy with Russia and Ukraine? And is it the same negotiator functioning on the both side and secondly, instead of civilian Airlines we are using this IAF Forces is it some sort of message?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
Sorry I didn't get the last past. IAF message to whom?

Anand Shah: To the Russians, instead of Civilian Aircrafts.

Shailendra: Sir, Shailendra from News18. Sir, Hamein kal bataya gaya tha ki Belgorod mein bhi ek team tainat key gai hai MEA ki jo Moscow se gayi hai, woh kafi karib hai, Kharkiv ke, kya uske through ek corridor ki bhi baat bhi ki ja rahi thi ki wahan se ek corridor banaya jayega. Aaj jo Russian Ambassador key Press Conference bhi hui hai, unhonne bhi is baat par kaha hai ki hum corridor banaaenge taki students ko wahan se nikala ja sake to kya apni Embassy ki team jo wahan par hai, wo kuchh rasta bana payen hai woh nikalne ke liye Indian Students ko? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) We were informed yesterday that a team has been deployed in Belgorod as well. The MEA team which has gone from Moscow is very close to Kharkiv, was there even a talk of a corridor through it? That a corridor will be built from there. Today the Russian Ambassador had the press conference, he has also said that they will build a corridor so that the students can be taken out from there. So, can your Embassy team, which is there, find some way to get the Indian students out?

Suchitra: Sir, I’m Suchitra from News18 Tamil. There are students in the area of Mykolaiv in Ukraine. So we are getting reports that they don't have any connectivity, including the Railway station got blast in missile attack. So do you have any update on that? How many students are there?

Sudhi Ranjan: Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg. Any inputs or background you could share on whether Prime Minister is speaking to any of his counterparts? Or the EAM speaking to anybody else on the crisis and on the students also Sir? Thank you.

Srinjoy: Sir, this talk of getting people out from the East has been talked about for a while. How feasible is it now because, you know, there is a window of opportunity to get people out if there is safe passage from both sides,can getting people out from the East workout?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me take this round of questions. Let me start with, I'm not sure what you meant by negotiator. I don't remember the word negotiations as I mentioned, we had been in touch with the Russians. I don't know if that's a negotiation. Diplomats tend to use the word negotiations most carefully.This is a discussions and we have been touch with them and to basically press our demand as well as with the Ukrainians that we need mechanism, safe passage for our people. And as I mentioned just now, this is based on Russian inputs, what we have put the advisory. I wouldn't like to characterize it as a corridor or passage, but we would like to get all our people out. Your other part of it is, as Foreign Secretary I think mentioned on Sunday, we will use whatever options we need and is felt appropriate to bring out our people. As I mentioned, we had been using Civilian Aircrafts. And it was felt that our assets regarding C17 would also be able to augment and help and streamline that process and so we have been using it. If you recall it correctly one of the C17 has also gone out with humanitarian assistance out so that's a decision that's based on operational requirement and ground situation.

Shailendra Ji, Belgorod mein baat aapne ki, hamari team sirph Belgorod mein nahee hai, aur bhee jagah mein bhee hai, kursk mein bhee hai aur kuchh aur jagah bhi hai Russian side pe par dekhiye ye hamare choice pe to nahi hai vo map mein to bahut paas lagta hai par abhee ek wahaan hostile war chal raha hai, to abhee ke liye jo route lag raha hai, jo hamare Russians se baatcheet karne ke bad hamne advisory issue ki hai vo west aur south-west ki taraph hai, pashchim ke disha se hee Ukraine ki taraf hai, poorv ki disha mein wahaan russian forces honge ya kuchh bhi honge wo hamein nahi maloom, mein isamein keh nahi sakta hoon, par haan agar mauka mile to wo option hamare paas hai aur ham ussko dekh rahe hai kya ho sakata hai but abhee ke liye jo aap jikr kar rahe hai kharkiv mein jo hamaare advisory hai uss mein sirph ye 3 pashchim ki taraf jagah hain safe zone ki baat ham kar rahe hain. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) Shailendra ji you talked about Belgorod, our team is not only in Belgorod right now, it is also in other places, it is also in Kursk and there is some other place on the Russian side, see it is not our choice, on map it seems very close, but now there is a hostile war going on there, so for now the route which is being taken, after talking to the Russians, we have issued advisory, it is towards west and south-west, towards west. In the east direction there will be Russian forces or something, we do not know, I cannot say anything in this ? But yes, if we get a chance, we have that option and we are looking at them, but for now what we are referring to, in our advisory in Kharkiv, only these three safe zones are available on the west side.

You mentioned Suchitra Ji of Mykolaiv yes, look, as I mentioned Kharkiv of course we're looking at, but there are other cities there is Sumy, there’s Zaporizhzhia has now luckily been a little better. There a couple other places nearby. So our request has always been on a safe passage from Kharkiv and nearby adjoining places. The same response I give to Sidhant; I don't think I will be in a position to share exact numbers. Our teams both in MEA control rooms here as well as our MEA control centers or embassy control centers are taking in all the information and people do move. So one of the problems we face is somebody sends a message saying I'm here and in 10 hours next day they move, so I think but yes, we are focused on trying to get them out and I mentioned right in the beginning we are seeing if we can send an actual Embassy team there somewhere in the Eastern region to coordinate this from these places, depending of course on the ground situation.

Sudhi this is a question that I can answer very easily when it happens, we will let you know, Prime Minister has been actually in touch with a lot of leaders over the last couple of days as you know, he spoke to the neighbouring countries, he spoken to Poland, he spoken to the Slovak Republic, he spoken to Romanian leaders, he also received calls from President Macron as well as with I think the Commission Head, Charles Michel yesterday, of the European Union and so has the External Affairs Minister, he also informs you of his conversations. So once it happens, and we are in a position to share that will certainly do that. Srinjoy I didn't get exact details of your question. Yes, the East is something that we're looking at. There are a number of towns, some of them that people have reduced in because people have come out. We are open to looking at any option in which to do whether it's East, West or through the South, wherever there is a safe route mechanism to bring out our citizens we will use that, we are certainly exploring all that options.

Okay, if there are no further questions, I would like to thank you. Okay, last.

Speaker 2: Sir one thing is that you're talking about how things have been escalating. Sir how soon can this Eastern region be opened up? Also, there has been a query regarding Naveen’s mortal remains. Is that a possibility or you think it may not be possible to extricate him?

Speaker 3: Sir, Pashchim bengal ki mukhya mantri Mamta Banerjee keh rahi hai ki 3 mahine pahale le kar aana chahiye tha bahut der sarkar ne kar di wahan se apne nagariko ko, chhatron ko nikalne mein. (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is saying that they should have been brought back three months ago. Government has delayed too much in evacuating its citizens, the students from there.

Speaker 4: (.......inaudible)

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:Neeraj Ji jo prashn ka uttar maine abhi diya Sudhi ji ko main vahi dunga, Pradhan mantri ji bahut deshon ke leaders ke saath baat kar rahe hain , jab aisa koi batchit hoti hai hum usako share karte hain mein aisa kuch pahale se kehana nahin chaahunga. (Answered in hindi; Approximate Translation) I will give the same reply as given to Sudhi ji, the Prime Minister is talking to the leaders of many countries, if there is such a conversation, we share it, I would not like to say anything like that in advance.

Regarding your query, regarding three months ago. Look, I have a very good policy of not responding to comments that either I have not seen or not directly know, all I can say is, look, we take the decisions on evacuating our citizens at the appropriate time. We have been issuing advisories for quite some time now and many people did leave but conflict situation has arisen which has led to a formal evacuation process which has started now. And as you can see, a significant number of people have been evacuated, I think MEA has been in partnership and cooperation with IAF and other partners across the government and civil aviation and other states have been quite successful in bringing out a large number as you see, unfortunately, there are pockets where violence and conflict is still underway and that has made it a little more difficult. Nevertheless, as today's advisory indicates, we still see some hope of getting this done.

That is linked to the question, look, the Kharkiv is the focus. We know there are other cities, but the Kharkiv probably is the largest in terms of concentration of Indians that we had. We will continue to press, if in Kharkiv we can manage to do something today in terms of getting people out. But I don't know what you mean by opening up the Eastern Region. Look, violence has to stop, we have to have mechanism of ensuring safe passage, we are cognizant and we are pushing for that. As regards bringing back Shri Naveen’s mortal remains look our endeavour is to facilitate the return to India of the mortal remains of Shri Naveen. In the current situation, of course, we are looking at how that can be done and I'll share with you anything that we have later on.

Speaker 5: Aapne kaha shuru mein 17000 log nikale ja chuke hain 15 faravari ke baad. (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) You said that initially 17,000 people have been evacuated after February 15.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Karib karib satrah, nahi pehle se jabse hamne advisory pehle jari ki thi matlab hamne January ke ant mein hamne registration shuru kiya tha or tab se laga lijiye satrah hazaar, date nahi dalna chaahunga . Karib satrah hazaar lag raha hai jo numbers aaye hain. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) About seventeen thousand, since we had issued the advisory earlier, we started registration at the end of January and from then on, I would not like to put a date on it. Okay, last final question.

Speaker 5: Sir, jo PM ki Meeting hui thi, usmein ye kaha gaya tha, ki agar koi developing country ya fir Neighbouring Country humse madad mangegi to un ke Nationals ko bhi evacuate kiya jaega kya kisi country ne ab tak evacuate ki request dali hai. (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, in the PM's meeting, it was said that if a developing country or a neighbourly country asks us for help, their nationals will also be evacuated. Has any country made a request for evacuation so far?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye ye question ka jawab main theek se de nahi paaunga kyonki ho sakta hai ground level par main manga ho ya nahin. Mein yeh kehna chahta hoon ki dekhiye in principle hum hamesha doosre deshon ki madad karne ke liye taiyaar hain, agar hamein koi specific request miley to usko hamara jo najariya hoga wah issi se guided hoga. abhi agar koi specific hai toh pata nahin, par mujhe to maalum nahin hai abhi ki aisa koi hai, par aisa mauka koi ho aur hum kar paye toh hum jarur madad karenge. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation)See, I will not be able to answer this question properly because I am not aware that anyone has asked for help at the ground level or not. I want to say that see in principle we are always ready to help other countries, if we get any specific request then our attitude towards them will be guided by this, now if there is anything specific, then I do not know, but if we can do it, then we will definitely help.

Thank you very much for joining us for our special briefing. Please do monitor our social media as well as other handles and not just of our ministry but also of our embassies in Ukraine and around. Thank you, Namaskar.

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