Odishatv Bureau

Russia's special military offensive in Ukraine on February 24 caused one of the most serious humanitarian crisis in Europe since the World War II. 

The emergency situation brought unprecedented sufferings to millions of people, not only Ukrainians, but several thousands of Indian citizens and nationals from numerous other countries who were trapped in the war-torn country.

Amidst the turmoil, the government of India stepped up its diplomacy efforts to evacuate the stranded Indians from the danger zone with utmost caution and care. 

The then India's Ambassador to Ukraine, Partha Satpathy who happens to be an Odia IFS officer, had played a pivotal role in the swift execution of the rescue mission, code named 'Operation Ganga' by the government '.

Speaking exclusively to OTV on Saturday, Satpathy during his visit to Odisha, said that the evacuation operation of stranded Indians from war zones in Ukraine was a challenging experience for him.

“I recieved an alert about the launch of the Russian offensive at around 3 am. I wasted no time to chalk out an evacuation strategy with our emergency team,” Satpathy said during his interaction with OdishaTV's Radhamadhav Mishra.

The top diplomat explained that as anticipation was building high about the explosion of the conflict out of proportion any moment, preparations to deal with the emerging crisis were put up in place from the Indian side well in advance.

"We had started collecting data about the entire Indian community living in Ukraine on Google sheets based on Geo mapping. We also had managed to assort the geographical distribution and density of Indian citizens and students living in different provinces in the European country," said Satpathy.

He however explained that the war situation made the task an altogether different scenario than what was generally speculated. The events unfolded in a break-neck speed and so were our efforts." That is what ‘Operation Ganga’ was all about,” said Satpathy.

As per the diplomat, most of the Indians staying in Ukraine during the crisis were pursuing academics especially medicine.

"Mostly the student community from India were staying there. As per our estimates, as many as 4,000 Indian students were staying in Western Ukraine, another 4,000 students in the Central province. Similarly, as many as 6,000 students were staying in the Southern pockets and 8,000 were residing in the Eastern and Northern part of the country which puts the total count to a total of 22,000," said Satpathy.

He said most of the students were passing time under difficult circumstances. "It was challenging for them as well as it was for us. But it was our responsibility to evacuate them and we achieved it,” he added.

As per the top diplomat, Geo mapping was really helpful. The Indian embassy had planned to evacuate the students from the Western side of the country first so that their accommodation facilities could be used for those coming from eastern under-conflict zones.

Satpathy went on to explain that the Indian citizens were successfully evacuated from the Western regions within two days of the offensive. The Indians could avail the bus transport facilities and infrastructural facilities in the varsities with ease mostly due to less crowding at the borders during the initial period of the crisis. 

"Thereafter, we launched our rescue operation in the Central parts of the country. Around 2000 students were residing in Kyiv alone. It was a herculean task to evacuate them as railway was the only mode of transport at that time. Somehow, we managed to evacuate around 1,500-1,800 students on a day. That was a closely co-ordinated operation with the help of the Ukrainian authorities,” he claimed.

Satpathy mentioned that the greatest challenge that lay before them was to rescue people from the conflict zones in the East Ukraine which was under direct attack. The Embassy started focusing on the East after getting clearance from the Centre and it was a story by itself, said the Foreign Service officer.

Talking about providing shelters, food and support to scores of Indian students stranded in Kharkiv, Satpathy said, “Kharkiv evolved into a major challenge because of the sheer number of students residing there. It was a big industrial city of Ukraine and around 6,000 Indian citizens were stranded in the town alone. It was a tough task to evacuate all of them due to full-scale of invasion. They were staying in hostel bunkers and we were supplying them food and other essentials with the help of our network.They were of course in a panic mode but social media and online communication helped us ease their tensions to a long extent. Eventually, all of them were evacuated using railway transport," said Satpathy.

By Suryakant Jena And Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra