Operation Ganga: A ray of hope for Indians stuck in war-torn Ukraine

Harsh Paliwal | Updated: March 08, 2022, 12:50 PM

Share on:

Operation Ganga: A ray of hope for Indians stuck in war-torn Ukraine

In an unprecedented military operation, the Russian forces advanced into the Ukrainian border on 24th February, escalating a years-long conflict. While the West became a mere spectator in the ongoing conflict, the Indian government decided to bring back its citizens who were caught off-guard in the war-torn region of Ukraine. So far, the GoI has successfully brought back at least 15,920 Indian nationals from Ukraine in over 76 flights under Operation Ganga already, and plans to bring the rest too.


Tensions started brewing at the Kremlin after Volodymor Zelensky urged US President Joe Biden to fast track the NATO approval for Ukraine. Putin, on the other hand, strongly advocated that he did not want Russia’s neighboring country to be part of the NATO alliance, and started amassing troops on the border. While most experts predicted a war, some also said that Russia is in no position to wage war against Ukraine, given the economic crisis it faces.

On 24th February, however, Russian forces launched a hostile invasion on Ukraine. Zelensky asked for support from the West, but all they did was supply the country with arms and ammunition, and not actual military support.

Also Read The big game in Eurasia pushing for a New World Order 

Meanwhile, several Indians, majorly students, found themselves stuck in Ukraine, as the Ukrainian air space shut down and missiles started pouring in. Ukraine’s ministry of Education and Science estimated a presence of around 18,000 Indian students in Ukraine, but in an affidavit submitted to the Kerala High Court, the GOI estimated 20,000 Indian nationals in Ukraine.

  • Indian Students in Ukraine

With limited seats in government institutions and a fortune in fees for a degree in private universities, many Indian students look towards Ukraine when it comes to earning a professional degree in the medical field. That is why over the years, Ukraine had become a hotspot for Indian medical students as the fees in Ukrainian universities was almost half of that in Indian private medical colleges.

  • Advisories and initial help  

The Indian embassies were following the tensions thoroughly, and regularly issued advisories for the citizens stuck in Ukraine. In fact, the Indian embassy in Kyiv issued advisories even before (on 15th February) the conflict began. These advisories had a mixed impact, and approximately 4000 Indian nationals left Ukraine before the closure of airspace over the affected areas on the morning of 24 February.

Then on 26th February, due to an increase in the number of people asking for assistance, the embassy in Kyiv advised the students to not go to the border without communicating with them. On 28th February, the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) advised all the students to seek shelter in the western part of Ukraine. 

The MEA then also set up multiple information dissemination and communication channels – a round the clock helpline, email, website, fax, other phone numbers – and later on a twitter handle. The Indian community welfare fund, for Indian citizens stuck in other countries in distress was also activated.

  • The death of an Indian Student

The news of an Indian Student, Naveen Shekharappa’s death, shook India and the hopes of safely getting back the 20,000 Indians stuck in Ukraine. Naveen, who was a fourth year medical student, hailed from Karnataka, and was studying in Ukraine. He had taken shelter in a bunker under his flat in Kharkiv, where the Russian had intensified bombardment. He had reportedly stepped out to get food, where he lost his life in the shelling.

Operation Ganga - The Planning

On 27th February, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla announced that the government has launched an evacuation mission by the name ‘Operation Ganga’ to evacuate an approximate of 15,000 Indian citizens from the bordering countries of Ukraine.

He said “4,000 of our nationals had left before the conflict, pursuant to these advisories. We estimated that about 15,000 citizens were left in Ukraine."

The government will bear the complete cost of the evacuation process from Ukraine. Under operation Ganga, the government had planned a series of evacuation flights which will operate out of Romanian capital Bucharest and Hungarian capital Budapest. India has facilitated the evacuation of stranded Indians from Ukraine through its land border crossings with Romania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

It was also reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a phone call with Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelensky, discussed his concerns regarding the safety of students.

Operation Ganga: A ray of hope for Indians stuck in war-torn Ukraine

A total of 80 flights have been planned under Operation Ganga. According to ANI, the government has planned to rope in a total of 80 aircrafts in service to evacuate the stranded Indians. These flights belong to the fleet of Air India, Air India Express, Indigo, Spicejet, Vistara, GoAir, and planes from the Indian Air Force.

35 evacuations have been planned from Romanian capital city of Bucharest which includes 14 flights of Air India, eight of Air India Express, 7 of Indigo, 1 of Spicejet, 3 of Vistara, and two of Indian Air Force. On the other hand, a total of 28 flights have been scheduled to take off from Hungary’s capital.

Operation Ganga - The Execution

The first flight under Operation Ganga took off on 26th February from Bucharest in Romania with 249 Indian nationals on board, and landed at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport at 2:55 AM on 27th February. The students were welcomed by Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who also assured the students that their friends will also be brought back by the Indian government safely.

Aarushi Mamgain, a third year MBBS student, said that she was worried for her friends who are still stuck at the border. “We were around 250 students awaiting our turn to enter Romania, but now there is chaos at the Ukrainian border and thousands of students have gathered with an aim to return to India. I have been receiving calls from their parents and all this is making me anxious,” she said.

Operation Ganga: A ray of hope for Indians stuck in war-torn Ukraine

While the MEA and the embassies of Ukraine and neighboring countries are working round the clock to facilitate the border-crossing of Indian students from Ukraine, the rush at these border checkpoints have led to many clashes, and a wait period of two to three days in freezing temperatures.

For seamless facilitation of border-crossing, the Indian government also started a bus service to take the Indian national through the checkpoints, but to further fasten this process, PM Narendra Modi, on 28th February, also sent four union ministers to countries bordering Ukraine to help better coordinate the evacuation of Indian nationals from the war-torn country.

Jyotiraditya Scindia travelled to Romania and Moldova, Kiren Rijiju to Slovakia, Hardeep Singh Puri to Hungary, and Gen. V. K. Singh (retd.) to Poland.

  • The Escalating Situation

Since the conflict began, the Indians stuck in Ukraine had been asking for help and guidance on social media, and several pleas for help were made on Twitter and Instagram by the students. While the majority of Indian students had managed to cross the border by 1 March, the ones left were taking shelter in bunkers built under educational hostels. They were unable to withdraw money and find food amid the escalating war situation.

On March 1, the Indian embassy made an announcement that said all Indians have left the capital of Kyiv. On March 2, the embassy tweeted in all caps, “Leave Kharkiv Immediately” and advised people to reach nearby locations of Pisochyn, Babai, and Bezlyudivka using any means possible. These are 11, 12, and 16 kilometers walking distance respectively. The deadline given was "by 6 pm local time (9.30 pm IST)". It was said that evacuations in Kharkiv, which had become prone to heavy bombardment by the Russians, was only possible due to the conversation between Modi and Putin on March 2, when Putin agreed to provide a safe passage for Indian students to leave Kharkiv.

A defense advisory on 3 March also suggested multiple survival guidelines to those still left.

  • The Evacuations

As per the planning, the evacuations began from 26th February, and a series of flights brought back several stranded Indians back home. Operation Ganga has reached its final stages and will conclude in the coming days.

As of now, a total of 76 flights have brought back over 15,920 Indians. This number also includes the 2500 Indians onboard the 13 flights that landed on Sunday. There were 7 more flights scheduled to take off on Monday and Tuesday. One of them also includes an IAF C-17 aircraft, which will take off from Rzeszow, Poland.

All in all, over 21,000 Indians have been evacuated from Ukraine, and the neighboring countries since the government issued the advisories. Out of these, 19,920 Indians have already reached India.

  • Indian Student Shot in Kyiv

Harjot Singh, an Indian student was shot on 27th February, while he was in a cab with his friends in Kyiv. He sustained multiple bullet injuries, but was able to survive. He regained consciousness on March 2, but luckily he was able to cross the border and enter into Poland despite losing his passport in panic.

Future Plans

Operation Ganga has reached its concluding stage, and the last evaluation flights have started landing on Monday morning. Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri also landed on Monday with the last batch of 6,711 Indians from Budapest. Meanwhile, the MEA control room, as well as the control centers operated by our embassies, continue to operate on a 24*7 basis. The MEA control room has attended 12,435 calls and 9,026 mails till Monday afternoon. Six tranches of humanitarian aid were sent earlier, and one more trench weighing six tons was dispatched by IAF flight to Poland.

Although there are reports coming in about some 700-800 students stuck in the Sumy State University, Sumy, Ukraine, but the government is on it and they will possibly be the last batch of Indians to be evacuated from Ukraine. 

The Embassy in Kyiv has recently tweeted, and has asked all the Indians still stuck in Ukraine to fill a Google form on an urgent basis. It is being speculated that this form is in regard to the last round of evacuations.

Amid a war-like situation in Ukraine, the students had no idea how to survive, but the embassy and the MEA with their advisories kept the students safe from any harm, meanwhile the government through their diplomacy managed to get the students across the border without much hassle. It is due to the government’s swift response that over 20,000 Indians, most of them students, will return safely to their country.

Related Discussion

11 days ago
16 days ago
16 days ago
17 days ago

View More