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(Image Courtesy: Ukraine's Sumy State University)
 
Has India learnt any lesson from the day BJP stalwarts Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Harin Pathak voiced concern over the plight of Indian students in Ukraine during 1992? 
Does chest-thumping show Modi Government’s reluctance to learn from past horror stories that originated from Ukraine? Can blaming the previous regimes deflect the Opposition demand for accountability? Should ministers flaunt evacuation of Indians from 100% safe airports outside Ukraine to derive electoral advantage?
The answer to these questions become clear for those who respect the history. It is a vital tool to avoid governance mistakes. Acute shortage of cash with hungry students in Ukraine is the common thread of the horror stories from 1992 to 2022
Mr. Pathak, who was a minister in Vajpayee Government, told Lok Sabha on 7th April 1992: “4000 Indian students there are living in miserable conditions. They are facing shortage of bread and eatables and are just surviving on bread and water. Though winter season is in full swing but they do not have shoes to put on”.
He stated: “Medical students studying in Ukraine, have written to their parents that for shortage of cash they are not able to return to India...They may be given admissions here and if they need cash, then arrangements should be made by the Government to send money to them, to save these students from hunger and misery”.
Mr. Pathak observed: “We took prompt decision (in 1990) to repatriate Indians from the Gulf in the face of disturbed conditions over there. Similar efforts need to be made to bring back these students”.
Mr. Vajpayee state in Lok Sabha on the same day: “The Government of India should pay attention to remove their difficulties. Firstly, the scholarships they are getting in roubles is very meagre. Secondly, they are finding it difficult to come back to India”.
There is nothing in the public domain to show that the Government created an emergency fund for our embassy in Ukraine exclusively to help the students in dire situation. It is baffling that the Government has surplus cash for erecting buildings such as Parliaments, Courts, etc in other developing nations. Money is not the issue when it comes to donating ambulances, food, vaccines to developing countries. 
The Government, however, could not set aside cash grant of say $ 1000 per student who battled for their lives in Ukraine. Why was PM Cares Fund not used to digitally transfer life-saving grant to all students caught in whirlpool of despair?
Sumy University’s 700 Indian students are still not out of the limbo. They deserve national honour for the bravery, if not an apology from the dreaded trolls army of Bhakts. They berated students on social media for not exiting Ukraine in time. Maharashtra ex-Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was quick to note that the students miscalculated the Ukraine situation. What about Modi Government’s calculations? 
The Ukraine war was on the horizon. Intelligence service of every developed country knew this. Satellite images of Russian war preparedness were adequate to alert anyone. The US President Joe Biden openly alerted the world on 17th February that Russia is set to invade the Ukraine. And yet elections-busy ministers in Modi Government spared no thought for arranging cash grant to students in the run-up to the War. 
The Indian embassy had ample time to evacuate them after Mr Biden pressed the alarm. 
Leave aside cash, even a help-facilitating website for Indian going abroad, www.madad.gov.in, has not been updated since 8th July 2019! Only 23382 students out of over 10 lakh students studying abroad are registered at this website. This either means lip-service by the Government or trust deficit by disillusioned Indian pursuing dreams abroad. 
The link at this website for India embassy at Kyiv takes one its old website (www.embassyofindiaukraine.in). This Internet registration for this website name has perhaps not been renewed or it has been hacked- an impression one gets after clicking open the old website. The weblink should take one to the present address: https://www.eoiukraine.gov.in/ that one has to search via google. 
If convoy of wheat trucks can be sent to Afghanistan through Pakistan, then certainly five truck, flying Indian flag, could have delivered food & water to Indians at Sumy University from Russia. Why Did the Government not hire drone services to send food from other parts of Ukraine or adjoining countries to students trapped in war zones? Is it impossible to fly drones carrying Indian flag to Sumy university where 700 students battled hunger and thirst? Are drones only meant for image-building as was done at ‘Beating The Retreat’ function on 29th January 2022 in New Delhi? 
Forget proactive evacuation of students on buses to locations for safe flight to India. Look at the timing of Indian embassy’s first advisory dated 25th February to carry cash. It came a day after the start of the war!
The Indian Embassy should have given its sermon to keep ready cash for emergency situation in its first advisory dated 15th February. Even the advice to all Indians to exit Ukraine was issued on 20th February. 
A comparison of 2022 advisories with the ones issued in 2014 is enlightening. In June 2014, the embassy booked train tickets for students in 2 violence-hit regions of Ukraine for their travel to Kyiv. The Embassy lodged the students and other Indians in a hotel at Kyiv before they were evacuated to India. Why the Embassy did not make such timely, admirable arrangements during February 2022? 
It is high time to unveil a standard operating procedure (SOP) for all embassies for helping Indians rendered destitute abroad for varied reasons. The United States has such SOP.
The ongoing evacuation exercise, named Operation Ganga, has been a success for two reasons. First, it is due to sheer resilience and bravery of Indian students, who managed to walk or travel by road or train to nations adjoining Ukraine. Second, the evacuation flights took off from airports outside Ukraine.
The key challenge was to safely evacuate students from Ukraine and not from adjoining nations – a challenge that Government ducked and accepted only under pressure from the Opposition and the social media. 
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