By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Feb 26 (IANS): Answering the prayers of hundreds of their anxious relatives, 219 Indians, mostly students and a majority of them girls, finally landed here by Air India's first evacuation flight from Bucharest, Romania, on Saturday evening, officials said.
The AI-194 special service with the passengers -- largely Indian students studying in various universities in Ukraine -- landed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) at around 8 pm, sending waves of relief among their near and dear ones keeping vigil outside the airport.
Expressions of joy, easing of intense stress, weary smiles or controlled tears of happiness were visible among the evacuees, some of whom managed to speak with their waiting kin outside on video-calls.
At the CSMIA, Union Minister Piyush Goyal, Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar and other officials received, welcomed and comforted the evacuees, as they trooped out of the arrival lounge.
In the past few days, many of them had sent desperate SOS for help through social media, seeking return to their parents and motherland.
This is the first batch of evacuees arriving from the war-hit Ukraine, and several more airlifting operations are expected in the next few days.
An estimated 1,200 students from Maharashtra, besides some who had gone for business or tourism purposes, are stranded in Ukraine, as their concerned families await news from them.
Goyal said that more flights will be operated over the next few days and will not stop till all Indians are airlifted from there safely.
He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Minster of External Affairs S. Jaishankar and other officials are continuously monitoring the situation and will render all help to those stranded in the war-hit country.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has directed the state officials to coordinate with the Centre for the evacuation process and extend all possible help to the evacuees.
State Congress President Nana Patole and Maharashtra minister Vijay Wadettiwar said the state government has managed to contact over 350 of the stranded persons from Maharashtra.
State minister Uday Samant wrote to the Centre three days ago seeking urgent assistance for evacuating the stranded people including those from Maharashtra.
Over two-dozen students are from Mumbai, plus others from Thane, Palghar, Ratnagiri, Nagpur, Pune, Aurangabad, Sindhudurg, Kolhapur and different districts or cities.
The CSMIA was fully geared to handle the evacuees reaching here by AI-1944 with a special corridor and all necessary facilities.
As per Centre's guidelines, all the students shall undergo a mandatory temperature check and will be required to produce a Covid-19 vaccination certification or a negative RTPCR report on landing.
In case they are unable to show these documents, they will be made to undergo an RTPCR test, at the airport, free of cost, and permitted to leave only if they test negative.
For those testing positive, they shall be clinically managed as per the government protocols, including quarantine or treatment.
The CSMIA has also fenced a special area at the airport for them to sit, giving them free WiFi access, food, water and medical assistance if required.