Relief, concern at Kyiv airport as West calls citizens home amid Russia invasion threat

Moroccan entrepreneur Aimrane Bouziane sighs with relief after seeing the “boarding” sign for his flight light up at Kyiv’s main airport despite fears that airspace may soon close over Ukraine.

“I think the soundest choice to make is to leave Ukraine now,” the 23-year-old said before heading off to passport control.

“I am leaving because of the situation, because I value my life.”

The ex-Soviet state’s air links with the world appeared in danger after KLM suspended flights citing risks from more than 100 000 Russian soldiers conducting drills across long stretches of Ukraine’s frontier.

Washington warns that an invasion could start “any day” and analysts predict that other international carriers may also soon stop flying to Kyiv because of the soaring insurance costs.

The febrile atmosphere was stoked further when a low-cost Ukrainian carrier had to divert a flight from Portugal and land its 175 passengers in Moldova because the plane’s Irish leasing company refused it permission to cross into Ukraine.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry was trying to arrange buses for the stranded passengers. A growing number of Western governments were urging their citizens to get out while they can.

American sports coach Denis Lucins said he was hoping for the best after landing in Kyiv – in defiance of US travel guidance – to visit his wife and seven-year-old son.

“I personally don’t think anything is going to happen,” Lucins said in reference to US warnings of a looming war.

“But unfortunately, nobody can read Vladimir Putin’s mind.”

‘Not helping’

The mood at Boryspil Airport was as relaxed as it has been across Kyiv and most other Ukrainian cities throughout the weeks-long crisis.

Travellers were calmly drinking coffee and eating cake as rays of sun streamed into the terminal on a cold winter day.

Ukrainian leaders have been increasingly angry at Washington for releasing almost daily intelligence briefings pointing to the imminent threat of war.

“All this information is only provoking panic and not helping us,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said over the weekend.

Lucins said he was worried about his safety “at some level”.

But he said he has been living in Ukraine since its 2014 pro-EU revolution was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for a separatist insurgency in the east that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

“I guess we just wait and see what happens,” he said.

Armenia native Armen Vartanyan looked up at the schedule board before flying to Istanbul and saw one flight cancelled to Canada.

“They are more careful about this stuff even if there is a 0.1 percent chance, they always take precaution,” the 36-year-old said.

But he scoffed at the idea of Russian troops marching into Ukraine in a bid to reverse its gradual drift toward the West.

“Russian troops coming to Kyiv? No, I don’t think that’s going happen. That would be World War III – too much.”

“The Donbass – yes,” he added in reference to the eastern separatist region under the rebels’ control.

“It’s already separate, they are using the ruble,” he said. “Putin might take that.”

– Agence France-Presse

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