An Air India aircraft flying to Ukraine to bring home Indians has been asked to turn back around after Ukraine issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) that was sent to all flights heading to Ukraine stating that the country has closed its airspace.
Air India's AI1947 flight which left for Kyiv at 0730 IST on February 24, in order to bring back thousands of Indians back home from Ukraine amid a conflict with Russia, has been asked to turn back around, sources in the know told Moneycontrol.
The plane was expected to arrive there in nearly six hours.
Ukraine has closed its airspace for civilian flights because of ‘high risk’ to safety as Russia declared war on the country.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 24 allowed Russian special forces to operate in two separatist areas in Ukraine, which Russia on February 21 recognised as independent nations.
Earlier in the day, A Ukraine International Airlines flight from Kyiv landed at the Delhi airport at around 7.45 am, carrying Indian nationals, including students.
"There were 182 Indian nationals onboard the flight and majority of them were students... A couple of more flights have been scheduled," Anju Wariah, Director at STIC Group, said.
The group is the General Sales Agent (GSA) for Ukraine International Airlines in India. After weeks of rising tensions, Russia on Thursday announced a military operation against Ukraine.
As hopes of sending more civilian flights dim due to the escalating violence, the Indian government is currently brainstorming with India's permanent mission at the United Nations as well as the Indian embassy in Kiev, as to the next possible step.
Early in the morning, the embassy in the Ukrainian capital asked all Indian students currently left in the country to register with it, sources in the ministry of external affairs said. This is standard protocol in cases of war breaking out in a foreign country and would better prepare the government to plan for exigencies, they said.
Ukraine has an estimated 20,000 Indian students. However, most of them are not based out of the two separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
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.