On 21st February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to escalate the prolonged war between Ukraine and Russia to the next level by declaring the independence of two states in the Donbas region of Ukraine and ordering troops into the region. When the whole world was seeing the series of events unfold with a lacklustre demeanour, India was preparing to evacuate its citizens at the earliest. Apart from evacuating its own citizens, India also had to manage the expectations of its strategic allies like the USA and the European Union and at the same time abstain from tampering the relationship with the Russia. Here’s how India once again managed to pull off a diplomatic victory that has been a challenge for even the global 'North' like the USA.
On 16th February 2022, almost a week before Russian troops entered Donbass, the Indian government established a control room to provide assistance and information to Indians residing in Ukraine. As soon as things escalated to the cusp of war, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Teams were sent to the posts in countries having borders with Ukraine — Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic and Romania — to assist in the evacuation of Indian nationals from Ukraine. On the same day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with his Russian counterpart and reiterated India's firm conviction in honest and sincere dialogue to resolve Russia’s differences with Ukraine. An act that reflects great camaraderie and supreme confidence, to suggest dialogue as a solution to the man who had already set his vision on invasion through hard power. Apart from suggesting such a move, PM Modi had also conveyed India’s deep concern for its students in Ukraine and the need to evacuate. One can understand in hindsight that this phone call was not a mere courtesy but an incident of foreign diplomacy as it was evident when Russia later decided to strategically coordinate with the Indian embassy to help evacuate Indians. On 28th February, India decided to send four cabinet ministers as Special Envoys to monitor and guide the evacuation efforts.
As a part of Operation Ganga, the government mission to ensure the return of the citizens from Ukraine, 27 control centres were set up through border crossing points with Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Slovak Republic. India continued maintaining talks not only with Russia, the aggressor, but also Ukraine, the resistant. Ukraine had immediately appealed to the Indian Prime Minister to intervene and support its cause. On 7th March , PM Modi had a dialogue with his Ukrainian counterpart and reiterated his call for the immediate cessation of violence and noted that India has always stood for peaceful resolution of issues and direct dialogue between the two parties. He also thanked the Ukrainian President for his country’s efforts to help India evacuate its citizens. On the same day, he spoke to President Putin to convey his deep concern for the safety and security of the Indian students still remaining in Sumy. Thankfully, students stuck in Sumy also landed in India on 10th March.
To facilitate the smooth evacuation of Indians, support from neighbouring countries played a predominant role. Poland, Slovak Republic, Romania and Hungary decided to relax their visa guidelines to ensure the smooth and timely evacuation of Indians. Due to such relentless efforts of the Indian Government, nearly 20,000 Indians have been evacuated from war-torn Ukraine. While developed nations like the US, UK, and China significantly gave up on the evacuation of their citizens, India once again raised itself as a worthy example by carrying out extensive evacuation activities at the Ukrainian border.
During times of war, where we get to see such intense violations against humanity, there's little that individuals can do from their homes in countries and continents far away. May the powers that be resolve the issue and realise the futility of such aggressions. May there never be such a need for evacuations. May there be peace. Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu.