In the first Indian casualty in the war in Ukraine, a medical student from Karnataka was killed in shelling in Kharkiv city on Tuesday, even as the government said that all Indians have left Kyiv and roped in the Air Force to speed up the evacuation process.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high-level meeting, his fourth in the last 48 hours on Ukraine, as India asked envoys of Russia and Ukraine to ensure "urgent safe passage" to all Indian nationals stuck in Kharkiv and other conflict zones.
"We remain very concerned over the situation in Kharkiv, Sumy and other conflict zones," Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said at a media briefing after the meeting.
He said as per their information, all Indian nationals have left the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. The Indian embassy there had asked all stranded Indians to leave the capital city urgently "through any means available".
Prime Minister Modi expressed deep anguish over the death of Indian student Naveen Shekarappa Gyanagoudar in Kharkiv and also spoke to his father. He offered his heartfelt condolences to the family following the tragedy, official sources said.
Earlier in the day, Modi asked the Indian Air Force (IAF) to evacuate Indians stranded in Ukraine, sources said, adding the force is likely to deploy several C-17 aircraft, which has the capacity to carry approximately 300 passengers, as part of Operation Ganga.
Shringla said a C-17 IAF aircraft is expected to fly out at 4 AM on Wednesday to Romania to bring back Indians.
"Over the next three days, 26 flights have been scheduled to bring back Indian citizens," he said.
Apart from Bucharest and Budapest, airports in Poland and the Slovak Republic will also be used to operate evacuation flights, he said.
Till now, only private Indian carriers have been evacuating Indians from Romania and Hungary, countries with land borders with Ukraine on the western side, as the Ukrainian airspace has been shut since February 24 following the Russian military offensive.
According to Naveen's uncle, he was in a bunker in Kharkiv and had gone out in the morning to exchange currency and to fetch some food when he was caught shelling happened, in which he was killed instantaneously.
Naveen, a native of Chalageri in the Haveri district, was the fourth year of his course in the Kharkiv medical college.
Ukrainian envoy Igor Polikha condoled the death of the Indian student and thanked India for extending humanitarian aid to his country.
President of the European Council Charles Michel spoke to Prime Minister Modi and conveyed his condolences. He said the European countries are wholeheartedly helping in the evacuation of Indian citizens from Ukraine, asserting that the world must unite in defence of international law.
The Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors were called into the MEA and were asked to ensure the safety of the Indians stranded in Ukraine.
The MEA said India has reiterated its demand for "urgent safe passage" to Indian nationals who are still in Kharkiv and other cities.
"Similar action is also being undertaken by our Ambassadors in Russia and Ukraine," the MEA said.
The Kharkiv city is witnessing increasing fighting between the Ukrainian troops and Russian forces.
Official sources said the deteriorating situation in Kharkiv is a matter of grave concern and that the safety and security of Indian nationals in that city is of utmost priority for the government.
Meanwhile, Union Ministers Hardeep Singh Puri, Kiren Rijiju and Jyotiraditya Scindia left for Hungary, Slovakia and Romania respectively, a day after the government decided to send four Union ministers as India's special envoys to neighbouring countries of Ukraine to oversee the evacuation of Indians from the war-torn country through its border crossings.
Union Minister V K Singh had left on Monday night for Poland.
Sources said India has already taken up with the Russian and Ukrainian embassies the "pressing" requirement of safe passage to Indian nationals, including students, from Kharkiv and other cities in conflict zones.
"This demand has been repeatedly made to Russia and Ukraine since the beginning of this conflict on February 24. It has been conveyed to both their ambassadors in New Delhi as well as taken up in their capitals," said a source.
"An Indian team has been positioned in the Russian city of Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border. However, the conflict situation in and around Kharkiv and nearby cities has been an obstacle," the source said.
"Therefore, it is imperative that Russia and Ukraine respond to our need for safe passage urgently," it said
The sources said in places where the conflict has not endangered movement, Indian authorities have been able to evacuate the citizens.
They said India will continue to make utmost efforts to ensure the return of Indian citizens stranded in Ukraine.