NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday sought the support of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for evacuating hundreds of Indians stranded in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy amid intense fighting in the region.
The main focus of India’s evacuation efforts in Ukraine over the past few days has been the safe and secure exit of some 700 Indians, mostly students, from Sumy. Almost 16,000 Indian nationals have been evacuated from across Ukraine, including other areas in the eastern part of the country witnessing heavy Russian shelling and violence.
Modi first spoke to Zelensky and sought continued support from the Ukrainian government for ongoing efforts to evacuate Indian nationals from Sumy, people familiar with the matter said.
During the 35-minute conversation, the two leaders discussed the evolving situation in Ukraine, and Modi appreciated the “continuing direct dialogue” between Russia and Ukraine. He thanked Zelensky for the help extended by the Ukrainian government for the evacuation of Indian nationals, the people said.
Modi spoke subsequently to Putin and stressed the importance of the safe evacuation of Indian citizens from Sumy at the earliest, the people said. Putin assured Modi of “all possible cooperation” for their safe evacuation, they added.
Meanwhile, the phone call between Modi and Putin lasted around 50 minutes, during which the two leaders discussed the evolving situation in Ukraine. Putin also briefed Modi on negotiations between the Ukrainian and Russian teams.
Modi urged Putin to hold direct talks with Zelensky, in addition to the ongoing negotiations between their teams. He also appreciated the announcement of a ceasefire and establishment of humanitarian corridors in parts of Ukraine, including Sumy, the sources said.
An official statement said Zelensky briefed Modi in detail about the conflict situation and ongoing negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Modi “expressed deep concern about the ongoing conflict and resultant humanitarian crisis”.
Modi also reiterated his call for “immediate cessation of violence” and noted that India has “always stood for peaceful resolution of issues and direct dialogue between the two parties”.
He expressed “deep concern for safety and security of Indian students still remaining in Ukraine and emphasised the need for their quick and safe evacuation”, the statement said.
This was Modi’s second phone conversation with both leaders. Zelensky had called Modi on February 26 to seek India’s support at the United Nations Security Council. At the time, Modi had repeated his call for an immediate end to violence and return to dialogue.
Modi and Putin last spoke hours after the Russian President ordered the special military operation in support of the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Monday’s telephonic conversations were part of India’s ramped up efforts to get all its citizens out of Ukraine.
The Indian side has repeatedly called for an immediate end to the violence and a return to the path of diplomacy and negotiations. Though India has refrained from criticising Russia’s actions in Ukraine because of the close strategic ties between New Delhi and Moscow, it has said that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected.
The Indian government launched ‘Operation Ganga’ to evacuate Indians from Ukraine using charter flights and military aircraft to fly out more than 15,900 people as of Sunday. More than a dozen flights were scheduled for Sunday and Monday.