An Air India aircraft flying to Ukraine to bring home Indians is turning back for Delhi after Ukraine said it has closed its airspace amid Russian military operations in its eastern breakaway areas. Thousands of Indians are waiting to fly back home from Ukraine amid a conflict with Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin this morning allowed Russian special forces to operate in two separatist areas in Ukraine, which Russia on Monday recognised as independent nations.
The Air India flight decided to turn back to Delhi after a NOTAM, or notice to airmen, was sent to all flights heading to Ukraine.
With large-scale military operations unfolding in eastern Ukraine, commercial flights would be at a very high risk due to the chaotic nature of the airspace, which would likely be crowded with military anti-aircraft activity.
A Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board, during heavy fighting between Ukraine’s armed forces and pro-Russian separatists. Investigators still suspect the aircraft was downed by a Russian-made BUK anti-aircraft missile fired from eastern Ukraine.
Air India, recently acquired by Tata group, has flown several “Vande Bharat” missions to repatriate Indians when the COVID-19 lockdown was in full effect. The same airline has made a few round trips to Ukraine to bring back Indians in the last one week.
Some Indians living in Ukraine, including students, have complained their homeward bound flights are expensive, going upwards of Rs 1 lakh per ticket.
A 24-hour helpline has been set up for Indians in Ukraine.
Vistara CEO Vinod Kannan on Tuesday said it had no plans to operate flights to Ukraine. Some other airlines that had plans to fly to Ukraine on demand would likely not go now since the eastern European nation’s airspace has been closed.