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Transcript of Special Briefing on Operation Ganga by the Official Spokesperson (March 05, 2022)

March 06, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Good evening, Namaskar, thank you very much for joining the special briefing today evening on Operation Ganga and our evacuation from Ukraine. Apologies for the delayed start, but we had some ongoing developments. We'll try to keep this brief because we have some more meetings after this. Let me just share with you where we are, some ongoing developments just to brief you. Let me start with the flights this time. Probably you know by now, because we've been sharing the data on the flights already. During the last 24 hours, 15 flights have landed, around 2,900 Indians on board. So if you add that to the previous numbers, we have approximately 13,300 people who have returned to India on flights by 63 flights under Operation Ganga, that was as of around midday today. Some more flights, of course, will take off now. So, during the next 24 hours, 13 flights have been scheduled, of these, one of them will be the IAF C-17, that's going to Budapest. If you look at the departure points, 7 flights of these 13 will be to Budapest, and we have two each to Kosice in Slovak Republic, Rzeszow in Poland, and Bucharest in Romania. So I'll just repeat, the 24 hours, we're looking at about 13 flights, one by IAF C-17 and in terms of the total - 7 from Budapest, 2 from Kosice, 2 from Rzeszow, 2 from Bucharest.

As I've been saying, a large number of Indians, actually almost all of them, except for the two places that we discussed yesterday, Sumy and Kharkiv area, have now left Ukraine. There are some in transit somewhere. So I think we'll do a fresh look at who all are still in Ukraine, I think our embassy will be trying to contact those who happen to be still in Ukraine and I think the embassy will try to contact them. I mean, apart from those who have already registered, etc. because I think a lot of movements happen. But as I said, I don't think there are too many left, apart from the Sumy and that area. That we are separately looking at. Moving on to Kharkiv, there are some positive developments in terms of what we understand is that almost all Indians have now left Kharkiv city, that's certainly a very positive development. As you know, this was an area of considerable concern for last few days. So that's something, positive movement. In nearby Pisochyn is one of those safe areas that we had moved out people about now a couple of days ago. As of a few hours ago, there were less than 300 students there. I think 298 was the number our embassy put out who are to be evacuated out westwards. We hope to complete that task by today. Of this, as you've just seen, also on the social media, I think our embassy organized, that three buses have already got filled up, they have reached and are leaving. So the buses organized by embassy have been sent to Pisochyn and even as we speak, we hope that the next couple of buses will reach, load up and we think in those what five buses we should be able to get out all of them who are left. So that would resolve the Pisochyn set of people who are stranded there. So with that Pisochyn and Kharkiv hopefully in the next few hours, we should be able to clear out almost everyone. As far as we know as I said Kharkiv also there's nobody. Yesterday we were also able to send food and water and other essentials to the people in Pisochyn so that actually has been a more comfortable development.

The main focus is now on Sumy. This is in the Northeast on the border with Russia. Now here of course this has been in the news a lot and we are exploring multiple options for evacuating our citizens, students out of there, but let me reiterate the main challenge remains the ongoing shelling there, the ongoing violence there and the lack of transportation primarily, but even more than transportation I think it's a problem of having a secure and safe way to get them out while they're not under threat. We are in touch with all concerned regarding possible movement. The best option for us would be a ceasefire of course that allows to get our students out and in this connection, we have been strongly pressing both the Russian and the Ukrainian sides to allow this kind of a local ceasefire, perhaps just to get a corridor for our students. It has not yet happened, but we are continuing to push for that. Meanwhile, I would urge all our students who are there in Sumy, we know what you're going through, it's a tough situation, you are managing it with fortitude. Please stay safe, avoid unnecessary risks. Safety and security is paramount. We feel your pain; the difficulties you're going through. Just bear with us, as you see, please follow the advisories our embassy is issuing. The complete attention of our evacuation efforts are now on getting you out safely.

Regarding the western borders, I think movement is reasonably smooth. Those who are in transit are reaching there and crossing over. Our embassy teams are facilitating on both sides of the border. I think that's probably the kind of update I had. As I mentioned yesterday, over 21,000 have moved out, a few hundred more now over the day. So since our first advisory, as I said more than 21,000 have moved out. Humanitarian assistance also has six tranches went out and about 16 odd tons. I think the Civil Aviation have put out press release, some sixteen and a half tons of material has gone. Control Room continues to get a lot of queries, I think, but less now, because the number of students are less, but I think 12,240 calls and just over 9,000 emails is what I have. Let me just stop here since as I said, we will try to make it a short, precise today. So let me take round of questions. Sidhant.

Sidhant: Sir, Sidhant from WION. Do you expect the Russian side to come out with some kind of ceasefire as they've already announced for two cities in Ukraine in next few hours or perhaps days given the deteriorating situation of the Indian students in Sumy.

Kavita: Sir, Mein Kavita hun, Haribhoomi Newspaper se. Sir mein ye ek small clarification aapse puchna chahti hun. Jaise aapne kaha ki Kharkiv ko poori tarah se khali kar liya gaya hai, jismein Pisochyn shahar se bhi bacchon ko nikal liya gaya hai aur Kharkiv bhi aap keh rahe hein poori tarike se clear ho gaya hai. Aur doosra jo vishay hai ki Sumy main abhi kya matlab chatron ka kitna number abhi hai hamara hai wahan par, uss ki sthithi ke baare mein batayen, kyon ki UN mein Russia ki taraf se jo UN ke representative hain unhone kaha hai ki hum local ceasefire ke liye taiyar hain, route dene ke liye bhi taiyar hain. To kab tak in chizon ko hum clear out kar lenge. Kya Sumy se aur jo Kharkiv aapne kaha hai, wahan se hum Russian border ki taraf bacchon ko le ke ja rahe hein. Humari kya plans hein? Thank you Sir! (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) Sir I am Kavita from Haribhoomi Newspaper. Sir, I want a small clarification from you. As you said that Kharkiv has been fully evacuated, students have been evacuated from Pisochyn city also and you are telling that all have been evacuated from Kharkiv also. And second issue is related to Sumy. What is the exact number of students there, please tell us about the situation there? The Russian representative in the UN has told that they are ready to provide local ceasefire and even ready to provide route also. So, by when will we be able to clear things out? So, are we taking the students from Sumy and Kharkiv, as you told towards the Russian border? What are our plans? Thank you, Sir.

Yashi: Hi, this is Yashi from The New Indian Express. I'd like to know where is the maximum concentration of Indians that need to be evacuated across the border on the west, you know the Ukrainian border?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
You mean entire Ukraine where is the maximum concentration?

Yashi: Not in the entire Ukraine, in all the bordering countries, where you have maximum number of Indians which need to be evacuated, which part whether it is Romania, Hungary whatever? Which are the countries?

Shrinjoy: Shrinjoy from Times Now. Sir, in a situation like this, a government will have several options. Now vis-a-vis getting people out of Sumy where we hear that there are two groups of Indians in two different places in Sumy. What are the options of the government in getting them out? Is getting them out through the East an option? If there is a ceasefire, is getting them out through the West an option, if you could just let us know what the options are, and how they can work.

Saurabh Trivedi: Sir, Saurabh Trivedi from ANI. Sir a few hours back, a group of students have uploaded a video on social media from Sumy that they are leaving and they are alleging that no authorities are helping them over there. So what is update on this?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I'll just take the questions as you mentioned. Sidhant, on the issue of our expectation, I don't know. I would not like to guess or speculate. I would just like to say we are urging and we are strongly urging both sides to have a ceasefire, whether it will happen, when it will happen is something that we will see as it happens. I can't say when, but I hope soon, I hope it happens because that is something that's useful and necessary for us to be able to actually pull out our students, otherwise we are putting them at risk. That's the real problem. But that's all I can say in terms of how we're looking at it, but we will continue to press on this.

Kavita jee aapane poochha Sumy ka situation kaisa hai aur Russian border mein , kis tarah ka aap situation poochh rahe they ? dekhiye wahaan pe dikkatein to aa rahee hai, par jab tak wahaan koi yuddh viraam vagairah na ho mushkil hota hai. Abhee to vo andar hain, campus ke andar hain, shelters mein. Jarur air raid vagairah hotee hai, to safe hain. Par aap Russian border ki taraf jaen, hamaare paas hamesha abhee jaise Shrinjoy ko main yahee kehne waala hoon, hamare paas hamesha contingencies hoti hain, different plans hote hain. Jaisa ki maine kaha tha hamaaree teams hain Russian side pe bhee hai, hamaaree teams east mein bhi ja rahi hain, main do teen din se keh raha hoon hamaaree teams abhi uss taraf jaane ki koshish kar rahi hai. Abhi to jaise Pisochyn se bhee nikaal rahe hain, to abhee hamaaree ability ho gaye hai Kuchh us area se bhee nikaalane ki. Par dikkat usmein nahi hai. Hamein jo dikkat aa rahi hai wo hai vo jahaan se, uss se thodi dur pe shelling ho rahee hai aur aisa na ho ki wo nikal lein aur phir vo khatre mein aa jaye. To ye hamari main problem hai. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Kavita ji you asked how is Sumy's Situation and at the Russian border, what kind of situation you were asking? See, there are problems there, but unless there is a ceasefire, etc., it is difficult. Right now, they are inside the campus, shelters. There are air raids, etc. But they are safe. Talking about Russian border, we always have different contingencies and plans. As I said, our teams are on the Russian side too, our teams are also going to the east. I have been saying for two or three days that our teams are trying to go to that side. Right now, just as we are evacuating from Pisochyn, so now we have got the ability to evacuate from that area too. But the problem is not in this. The problem we are facing is that from where they are, the shelling is going on at a little distance and if they leave then they may land into danger. So, this is our main problem.

I'll answer Shrinjoy’s question also on this. Yeah, there are clearly two or more options in terms of - it can go East, it can go West. We are not choosing one over the other. It all depends on what is the transportation options, what are the logistic arrangements that can be organized. At this point unfortunately, we don't have many of those options, because our primary requirement of having a safe route, where our children or students are not at risk when they leave their campuses and move. The good thing in Sumy is, of course that they're concentrated, they are together in one or two locations. So it should be little easier to pick them up rather than scattered across the city. But still, there's a large number, somebody asked me how many, about 700 odd is what our headcount is, something around 700. So we could look at all options. Our primary focus is to get them out safely, if East makes it easier, okay. Although the East probably in terms of distance is the closest but in terms of having to cross two frontlines because you'll have to cross the Ukrainian side and then the Russian side. And the West the ceasefire will probably be faster, because you will probably face only one frontline. But again, I'm no expert on this, we have teams on the ground, they will decide, what is the best way, once there is some degree of safety and security that is provided on the ground.

Yashi, you asked about maximum concentration, of course, the maximum concentration currently is in the town of Sumy, no doubt about it. But outside you're talking about on the borders. To be honest, I don't think there's much of a concentration. So people come there a couple of hours, a few hours, and then they're crossing through. So I don't think as far as I'm aware, there is any major group waiting to cross over on any of the borders. Sometimes because of the rush, the continuous rush of other nationalities, and Ukrainians trying to get out. But on the whole, we haven't heard anything particular. In fact, as I said, the vast majority of people have crossed over and that's why the people crossing the border in the last 24 hours has not been much, very many, it's not too high, because many of them have crossed over now. So, that has become much smoother, those who are reaching. Obviously, once the Pisochyn group comes out, that will add to some pressure at a certain point, then, of course, the Sumy group will come out and that will also, but that will be then, they haven't reached that point yet. The earliest group has probably gone to Lviv today.

Yashi: They are around just a thousand?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look, we don't know exactly, this is all an estimate. If you add up these two numbers there are obviously more than 1000 because there were 700, 800 in Pisochyn earlier, but again they have moved to the west now and we expect some more in transit or somewhere else. That's why I started by saying our embassy is now also going to look at, fresh look at who all are left behind perhaps who are stuck somewhere else, because right now we're looking at large concentrations and once this process is over, perhaps we will look at that, then we'll have exact fix on how many more are left, but our assessment is that number is not very high. Because just look at how many have actually crossed. Saurabh Trivedi you asked about?

Saurabh Trivedi: Sir, the video going viral.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: That video is in the morning. Is that the one about from Sumy?

Saurabh Trivedi: Yeah.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Look, I understand that pain. I started with that. I can imagine the feeling of being left out. Everybody else is leaving. They are stuck. There are difficulties in living conditions. But I'm happy they're safe. I'm happy they're in a secure place. The university is looking after them. Yes, there are problems, the city is I think water system got hit. So water is a problem. Electricity got damaged, I think it is back on. I assure you we're monitoring it very closely. We're talking to the students directly both from the embassy and our control room here. Subsequently, after we spoke and other people spoke to the students, they've gone back to the shelters, they are inside. So yes, I think that video showed their worry and concern. But I think they're not just kids they're grownups they know the risks that they carry of coming out. And I would salute them and I would commend them, I think, and they have gone back inside and as I said, we are trying to see if we can actually have a more secure way of getting them out. Yes, videos like that do get viral. In fact, the biggest problem we have is a lot of viral videos, some of them unverified, this one's probably a verified one.

Sorry, you were asking whether I could repeat the numbers. Look, let's go back to the overall numbers. We have got something around that 21,000 mark, over 20,000 let's say maybe less, who have actually left Ukraine. Of this 4,000 had come obviously much earlier before the hostilities broke out. And since the hostilities have broken out, we have got 13,300 people back on 63 flights under Operation Ganga. So you could say if you remove from about 24,000, 16,000, so another what two and a half thousand plus people are outside Ukraine but waiting for flights. Today there'll be 13 flights I would assume something like two and a half thousand a little less will come up. So that leaves another 1500 plus which will be coming in tomorrow’s flights, they'll come out. So I think by tomorrow flights all these people will come out and then we will only be looking at largely the Sumy, Kharkiv, Pisochyn group and maybe some others. So that way I think we are proceeding well and I think that's a good.

Speaker 1: I think there are more.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As far as we are aware almost all have left. Look somebody then subsequently pops up, but I think as far as we know, most of them have managed to get out. Sumy also we are hoping that as soon as we can get a break. You have a question, we will take that.

Umashankar: Umashankar NDTV India. Ek to aapka tweet ayaa, jab ye video ayaa. Jinka jikr abhii kar rahe the ye. Uske bad bhi aapne baat kii hai wahan dono pakshon se baat kii hai aur unko dharya rakhne ke liye jo abhi abhi aapne kahaa. To kis tarah ka unko ashwasan diya gaya hai. Kyunkii bahut desperate hai aur shayad bahut jyada der nahi rukne wale hai students ko, kinke jariye diya aur dusrii bat ye hai ki wo 600 kilometer paidal chalne kii bat kar rahe the. To ye rokne ke liye kya ashwasan diya hai unko. Kyunki wo keh rahe the ki hum Mariupol kii taraf se hum jayenge kyonki udhar se Rus ne corridor khola hai. Kya ashwasan diya hai unko aur dusra jab topmost leadership ke level pe bat ho gai, Pradhan mantri Modi ne jab rashtrapati Putin se do bar bat kii, dono hii bar bhartiya chatron aur bhartiya nagrikon kii suraksha kii bat uthai. Udhar se ashwasan bhii ayaa joki read out men bhii ayaa. Uske bad akirkar kya coordination ka dikkat hai, kya yeh Ukraine aur Roos ke beech ka jiski wajah se, ceasefire kii bat aap saaf taur par nahin kar pa rahe hain, jaisa ki abhii aapne kaha ya kya kuch aur dikkat hai ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) Umashankar from NDTV India. One of your tweets came, when this video came out. About which you were just talking. After that you said that you've talked there to both sides and you said that you have asked students to keep patience. What sort of assurance has been given to them? They are very desperate and they are not going to stay there very long and secondly, they were talking about being ready to walk down 600 kms. What assurance has been given to stop them from doing this? Because they are telling that, they will cross through Mariupol because the Russians have opened a corridor on that side, what assurance has been given and secondly when the talks have taken place at the level of topmost leadership, Prime Minister Modi has talked to President Putin twice and raised the issue of safety of Indian students and Indian citizens. They have also given assurance, which came out in the read-out also. So, what is the actual problem, whether it is a coordination problem? Is it due to Ukraine-Russia problem because of which you are not able to talk clearly about ceasefire as you told now or is there some other problem?

Meghana: Meghana from DD News Sir. We have been talking about other countries’ nationals also asking for help. So is there any update on that, anybody wanting to get evacuated?

Sidhant: Sir you talked about Sumy one of the big worries you talked about is the transportation to take them to the border. What are the options on the table for the transportation of these students from Sumy where they are located to the border? What are you looking at?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay, let me just start. Umashankar ji aapne puchha kya ashwashan diya? kinko students ko? dekhiye hamane students ko ashwashan dene ki baat nahi hai ham unako samajhte hai ki unki dikkaten kya hai aur unaki man ki halat kaisi hai. Woh nikalna chahte hai, woh ghabaraaye hue hain. 600 km ki baat maine suni nahi kyoki Russian border 60 km hai, ho sakta hai uski baat kar rahe ho or 600 km chalne ki koi matlab ho nahi sakta. Woh agar 25 km bahar nikal aa paayen vahan se toh vahan toh normal bason se aa jayenge, baat woh nahi hai. dikkat hai pahle 5 km mein safety hai ya nahi? uss area mein bombing chal rahi hai, darr usi area ka hai aisa nahi hai uske door kya ho raha hai, or 60 km bhi paidal chalna hota nahi hai curfew laga rehta hai, din ke samay chalna hota hai. Dekhiye main samajh sakta hoon students hai phanse hue hai par agar vo option hota to kara dete. Hamne kaha tha na kharkiv mein ki aap paidal chal kar pahuch jaiye, pisochyn 12 km, aa gaye saat aath sau log nikal gaye aur ab vo safe hai to ye option hota to hum kara ddee. Humne ashwashan se jyada hamne unko samjhaya ki hum chintit hai, hum dekh rahe hai aapke kya options hai. Aap dhairya rakhe aur poori bharat sarkar,videsh mantralay,hamare embassy sab isamen lage hue hai. Itana hi kehna chahunga. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Umashankar ji you asked what assurance was given? to the students? See, we didn’t talk about giving assurance to the students, we understand their problems and their state of mind, they want to leave, they are nervous. I have not heard about travelling 600 km because the Russian border is 60 km, maybe you are talking about it and there is no point in walking 600 km. If they can come out 25 km from there then they will be able to travel by normal buses, that is not the point. The problem is whether there is safety in the first 5 km or not? Bombing is going on in that area, the fear is of that area, it is not like what is happening away from it, and even 60 km of walking cannot be done on foot, curfew is imposed, one has to walk during the day time. See, I can understand that the students are trapped, but if they had that option, then we would have exercised it. We had said that from Kharkiv you should reach on foot, they came to Pisochyn about 12 km, seven -eight hundred people left and now they are safe, then if this option was there, we would have opted it. More than giving our assurance, we explained to them that we are equally worried, we are looking at what all options are there, you should be patient and the entire Indian government, Ministry of External Affairs, our embassy are all engaged in this. That’s what I would like to say.

Umashankar: (........inaudible)

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Ye aap kah rahe the donon desh mein kyon ceasefire nahi ho pa raha hai ? Matlab aap is tarike se kah rahe hai na ki modi ji ne baat kari. Dekhiye bharosa toh main samajh raha hoon par woh to keh rahe hai unke taraf, basen unke taraf hai, unke desh mein ghusne ke baad par ceasefire to ek taraf se nahi hota na. Aap jaise dekh rahe jo aaj ceasefire hui subah woh do shaharon mein usmein bhi sun rahe hain ki shelling chal raha hai abhi. Toh dekhiye ceasefire bahut aasaan cheeze nahi hai. Woh donon deshon ke beech mein hai, unko karna padega, hamare se ceasefire ki dikkat nahi hai na par hum toh donon desho se agrah kar sakte hai ki jaldi se jaldi aap kuchh, poora ceasefire nahi hua to aap kuchh local ceasefire Karen. To ab iske aage ab main kya keh sakta hoon . Kyon nahi ho pa raha hai wo hi bata payenge aapko. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) You were saying why ceasefire is not happening in both the countries? Means you are saying this in the context of Modiji’s conversation. See, I understand their assurances but what they are saying is that buses are on their side, after entering their country, ceasefire does not happen from one side, is it not? Like you are seeing that today the ceasefire that happened in the morning in those two cities, it is learnt that shelling is still going on there. Ceasefire is not an easy thing to implement. It’s between two countries; they will have to do it. We can only request both the countries to do something as soon as possible, if not complete ceasefire, then atleast do some local ceasefire. Beyond this, I cannot say anything. Why it is not happening, only they will be able to tell you.

Umashankar: Sawal yeh hai ki kya Russian dominate kar rahe hain. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) The question is whether Russians are dominating.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Nahin obviously abhi nahi. Dekhiye main yah kah nahi paaunga ki yudh main kaun dominate kar raha hai, main ek taraf kahunga toh dusre paksh nahi. Agar ek taraf karte tab to ho jata na baat, dekhiye main question nahi karna chahta hoon ki koi ek taraf kah raha hai ki haan main dominate kar raha hoon. Hamesha claim hota hai ye yuddh ka samay hai. Hum islie donon taraf se baat kar rahe hain. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) No, obviously not now. Look, I can't say who's dominating the war. If one side was dominating then it would have been possible. Look, I don't want to question someone’s claim when he is saying that yes, I am dominating. There is always a claim, it is war time. That's why we're talking to both sides.

Meghana, going to your question about which are the nationalities, I mentioned there was a Bangladeshi person who came in, I understand one Nepali citizen is going to come on this flight, we have had some more requests as and when they happen. Let me not prejudge, because they are also looking at other options. It's not just this, if they can find commercial routes also. But as I said, we are willing, we always said we will be positively looking at this, our Prime Minister committed to this saying that we will try to help developing countries our fellow citizens. So yes, if the requests have been coming in, we've been trying, they've not been too many because they have to be the right place at the right time and with enough flight coming. But I know I understand there is one Nepali citizen is probably coming today, Bangladeshi happened, there is some more groups which have requested, let them cross the border, let them come to a point then let's see. But yes, it's something that we would be positively looking at, all this request.

Sidhant, your question was back to what exactly are the options we are looking at? Look, you can't walk. So it has to be some kind of transport. I understand the train line is not working in Sumy, but again, I'm told that it is disrupted due to the fighting or bombing or whatever. So it's probably by road, it will probably have to be buses or trucks so that kind of thing. And it has to go somewhere close enough for the students to board that either right at their university or somewhere close they can go safely. But I'm completely in the domain of speculation here because who knows what will happen. If there is a corridor, we will find a way to get them out. If there is a pause in fighting, I assure you we will be able to pull them out. Which way we take let's not close our options. All options are open, which is the safest route we will do it.

Thank you. Thank you very much for joining us. Please continue to stay tuned to our social media and other websites and other handles not just of the ministry but also of our embassies. Again, I'll end with our best wishes to the students who are stuck in Sumy particularly and ask them to just be patient and continue to show the same fortitude that you have shown. We are trying our best. Thank you. Namaskar.

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