The world is reeling from a major war and while maintaining a neutral stance, the Bharatiya government has advised Russia, Ukraine and the West to solve their issues through dialogue and by respecting each other’s legitimate security concerns. While Bharat will be not picking up weapons anytime soon, remaining true to its mission to protect its civilians in any part of the world and bring them to safety, the Modi government has initiated Operation Ganga.
This ongoing operation involves evacuating Bharatiya citizens from Ukraine via its neighboring countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova, and Slovakia and bringing them back to Bharat. Over 20,000 Bharatiya nationals were stuck in Ukraine when tensions spiraled early last month, with most being students pursuing medical studies in Ukraine.
17400 Bharatiyas have been evacuated from the war-torn country since Russia launched its military operation on February 24. While most countries, including China, were slow off the block, our government has used diplomacy and calculated moves to bring almost all our students back, with only 700-odd students stuck in Sumy (a Ukrainian city just 48 km from the border with Russia) being an area of concern now.
The overwhelming majority of students and their families understand the complexity of the situation and the limitations of any government in evacuating its citizens from a warzone. They understand that Bharat is walking a fine line diplomatically and working to facilitate evacuation of those stuck in Ukraine. A few dozen embassy staff cannot personally attend to thousands of citizens stuck in a war-torn country, especially when over 1 million people are rushing out of the country and all transportation services are overloaded.
Despite the largely successful evacuation operation undertaken by the government, there are the usual Modi-haters who have not just tried to diminish Operation Ganga but have also handpicked some understandably tired and frustrated students who were expecting greater assistance from GoI (Government of India) within Ukraine.
The anti-Hindu, liberal media houses have highlighted such voices, without providing the right context, all with the goal of maligning the government.
In the above video, a student from Bihar told anti-Hindu propaganda outlet NDTV that the embassy officials helped his group once they crossed the border out of Ukraine, but before that they did not receive any help from either embassy or ‘contractor’. He blamed the government for ‘not taking action sooner like America’ and was upset at the red rose handed out upon arrival in Bharat, calling it a ‘hollow gesture’.
Incidentally, USA had issued its first travel advisory asking its citizens to leave Ukraine on 11 Feb, just 4 days before Bharat issued its first advisory with similar instructions. The updated US advisory as of February 28 clearly states that ” The U.S. government will not be able to evacuate U.S. citizens from Ukraine” and asks U.S. citizens in Ukraine to “depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options”. Moreover, general US guidelines for crisis situations advises its citizens, “You should have a plan of action for crisis situations that does not rely on U.S. government assistance” and adds that if the US govt does somehow manage to arrange transportation, US citizens are “generally responsible for reimbursing the government for the cost of their travel”.
In the face of war, one student was adamant that he wanted his pet dog to be transported to Bharat, and the GoI accommodated this request as well. Many seem to have brought their pets back with them. While the love for animals is praise-worthy, one must also be pragmatic and mindful of constraints in such a critical situation.
Attitude of a handful of citizens who expect the GoI to ensure everything works like clockwork in a war zone, or swoop in in military planes to rescue them, makes us question the values and ethics they were brought up with. If someone goes to a politically volatile nation of their own volition, they must be prepared to return home as well, especially since the Bharatiya embassy in Ukriane had been issuing advisories since February 15 about the looming crisis and advising students to leave.
But it is important to remember that the cribbing voices are few and far between, and there is also a lot of genuine anxiety, anger and trauma faced by students that is now being ruthlessly exploited. In some cases, appeals for evacuation or criticism by students related to Opposition parties like Samajwadi Party and Congress have been amplified by media.
But voices like Rubina, a fourth year medical student, from Raichur have not received the same attention. “Indian Embassy officials provided all help to us at Poland border. The Indian Officials arranged hotel stay and provided food and ensured all students take flight at the earliest to reach India.” She also said nobody can expect Indian embassy officials to enter Ukraine and help them. “Though several countries’ embassies have closed early, Indian embassy was the last to close its operation due to war,” Rubina said upon her return.
Bharat’s embassy in Kyiv was shut down on March 1, with the diplomats and embassy staff shifting to the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv to direct evacuation efforts from there.
Was government ‘slow’ in acting?
“Why couldn’t it have been done earlier? Why did you wait till the situation became so bad for the incoming students?,” asked CNN-News 18 journalist Pallavi Ghosh to Jyotiraditya Scindia to which the BJP leader returned, “Any government or Opposition party cannot pre-empt when the war is going to break out. And the day the war broke out, from that day onwards, we have been working 24/7 to ensure that all our children could get out. There were 19760 odd children in Ukraine. Before the war broke out, through the advisories, about 4800 children had left.”
Before we go further into what has been said against the government by the various critics of the BJP, let’s understand a vital thing. Taking cognizance of the deteriorating security environment, the GoI on February 15, 20 and 22 had issued advisories “strongly urging Indian nationals to leave”. This was 9 days before the Russians started their military operation in Ukraine.
The airspace was shut down as soon as the war commenced and so sending any planes for evacuation directly to Ukraine was ruled out. Our citizens had to cross over into neighboring countries with safe airspace where flights could be operated; flying aircraft into a war-zone, even in the unlikely scenario of Ukraine and Russia permitting such a thing, is fraught with risk – let’s not forget how Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down on July 17, 2014, while flying over eastern Ukraine killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board.
Bharat’s efforts to evacuate its citizens stand in stark contrast to how other countries reacted:
After the invasion started, a US advisory said, “The U.S. government will not be able to evacuate U.S. citizens from Ukraine.” It has asked its nationals to use commercially or privately-owned transportation to cross the border. The US closed its embassy in Kyiv on the 14th of February and moved a small team to Lviv before relocating to Poland.
China, which did not issue any travel advisories to nearly 6000 Chinese students in Ukraine, has postponed its evacuation plan. On the 24th of February, it asked its citizens leaving Kyiv to display signs of identification such as the Chinese flag, but on the 26th, it redacted its statement and said that the Chinese must refrain from displaying signs of identification.
UK has relocated its embassy from Kyiv to Lviv…and stated explicitly that British Nationals should not expect increased consular support or help with evacuating in these circumstances. “Russia’s military action in Ukraine will severely affect the British Government’s ability to provide consular assistance in Ukraine.” Instead, Britain has asked its nationals to follow the advice of Ukrainian authorities.
Meanwhile, Germany has shut down its embassy in Ukraine and stated that “an evacuation by German authorities is currently not possible.” African students from Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt and more, are also stranded and seeking help from their countries.
There are reports that before war broke out Ukrainian universities were telling the students to stay put and playing down concerns of imminent war, some even threatening to rusticate students who left without permission.Arashvi Kalpeshbhai Shah, a 20-year-old student of MBBS at Bukovina State Medical University, living in the city of Chernivtsi, Ukraine, said this upon her return to Bharat , “The Indian embassy had instructed us to leave Ukraine without wasting time since February 15, but people in Ukraine said to us that with the intervention of other countries, the war will not break out and there is a lot of unnecessary and negative propaganda about the Russia-Ukraine war in India.”
A Times of India article “Why Indian students in Ukraine don’t want to come home” dated February 16 says “students are reluctant to leave (depsite the Indian embassy’s travel advisory), saying they have licensing exams.”
So clearly, there were multiple factors at play and blaming either the embassy or students who chose/were forced to stay behind is pointless. But there is one sinister angle in this entire affair that our English-language media is desperately trying to bury.
What media is hiding about Ukrainian regime’s role
The Volodymyr Zelenskyy led Ukrainian regime’s behavior in this whole episode has been murky, to say the least. Multiple students have narrated the discrimination, mistreatment and even assault they faced at hands of Ukrainian border guards. They were told, “Your government is not supporting Ukraine, so don’t expect any help.” Not just Bharatiyas, African and Arab students too faced discrimination while Ukrainians and other Europeans were given priority at border crossings. The Ukrainian envoy to the United Nations had issued what can only be described as a veiled threat to Bharat, before voting in the UNSC on the crisis.
But that’s not all. Our government has been talking to both the Ukrainian and Russian government to arrange temporary ceasefires for evacuation through humanitarian corridors. A few times, it seemed that both sides had worked out an agreement, only for things to fall through at the last minute and both parties accusing the other of shelling/gunfire.
The students stuck in Sumy have been offered a safe passage into Russia, which is just 48 km from there. However, Ukraine has rejected all offers of humanitarian corridors that lead to Russia , calling it ‘immoral’ and an attempt by Russia to ‘manipulate world leaders’. Students in Sumy fear that the hindrance to their safe passage is coming from the Ukrainian authorities.
From the beginning of its operation, Russian Army has shown a clear departure from its usual tactics of heavy artillery and rocket fire from a distance to pound the enemy. They are wary of civilian casualties. Putin has clearly stated his belief that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people, and his main aim is to demilitarize Ukraine and protect the Russian-speaking people of Donbas region. It makes no sense whatsoever for Russia to stop civilian evacuation.
But Ukraine, on the other hand, is desperate to stall the Russian advance and drag the Russian Army into an urban war. It hopes that presence of civilians in cities will deter the Russians, and pictures of civilian casualties will increase global pressure on Russia. Clearly, Ukraine has much to gain from using civilians as human shields.
Our entire English-language media is busy parroting the Western line on this conflict, and no one is asking tough questions of the Ukrainian regime. If Ukraine thinks allowing its own citizens safe passage into Russia is ‘immoral’, fine. But what grounds does it have to prevent Bharatiya and other foreign nationals from crossing into Russia?
In the initial days after war broke out, students were mostly using private means to head towards Western Ukraine and the nearest border crossings. Even then, Bharatiya embassy in Ukraine was arranging buses for evacuation in peaceful towns like Chernvitsi, which is close to the Romanian border. Their ability to help in the cities where fighting was raging like Kharkhiv, Kyiv (Kiev) etc was limited. However, Bharatiya embassies in neighboring countries were providing relief, accommodation and arranging return flights from the outset.
GoI quickly adapted to the fast-changing situation, and ramped up its resources. 4 central ministers were dispatched to the region to expedite evacuation once students made it across the border. But the bigger problem lay within Ukraine. After embassy moved to Lviv, various control rooms were set up, and a team was dispatched to Poltava city to assist students stuck in most critical areas like Kharkiv and Sumy.
Our diplomats are continuously talking to all sides, including groups like Red Cross, to work out safe corridors to evacuate those still stuck, especially in Sumy. Many students reported that placing/painting the Bharatiya flag on their vehicles aided in their passage. Ironically, even some Pakistani and Turkish students used the tricolour to escape the warzone.
Despite such a massive operation undertaken by the Modi government, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who was partying out all night right after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and whose father, Rajiv Gandhi, despite being an AI pilot availed leaves during the 1971 war, has the audacity to level unsubstantiated charges at the government.
Constructive criticism is a key driver of continuous improvement in any nation and organization. It is no one’s claim that the current Bharatiya government is flawless. But this mindless bashing by our elites, Opposition parties and Hindu-hating mainstream media outlets is counter-productive. It just creates unnecessary bad blood in the country, and diverts attention from actual issues.
Those criticizing Operation Ganga don’t have the best interests of our students at heart. If they did, they would be questioning the tactics of a section of the Ukrainian regime which wants to use our students as human shields. They would be questioning why the West meddled in Ukraine’s affairs and pushed NATO eastwards, when even renowned American experts had warned this could trigger Russian military action.
Our elites and left-liberals are shedding fake tears over the plight of stranded students because this is just another convenient stick for them to beat the Modi government with. If they really had best interests of citizens at hearts, this Anglicized, Hindu-hating lot wouldn’t have remained silent over the horrific post-poll pogrom that left Bengal burning last year, and the flames of which continue to burn and terrorize innocent Bengali Hindus to this day.