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Extra flights out of Ukraine are filling up in anticipation of predicted invasion

FILE PHOTO: AirBaltic Airbus A220-300 plane YL-CSK painted in Lithuanian national colors takes off in Riga International Airport in Riga, Latvia January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

After European countries warned their citizens to flee Ukraine or risk conflict, Latvian flag airline airBaltic is adding extra flights out of Kyiv this week to meet a passenger surge.

“I did not feel calm in Kyiv, and my parents were worried. So I decided to go home to wait out the next few weeks, until things become clearer,” Giedrius Paurys said as he and his wife disembarked with four luggage and two small dogs from the extra Tuesday aircraft.

The news: Last week, the US warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent, and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Ukrainians to raise flags and sing the national song in unison on Feb. 16, the date on which some Western media speculate that Russia might attack.

  • Because of the warnings, airBaltic’s regular Tuesday trip to Riga sold out, so the business added extra rotations on Tuesday and Wednesday to meet the increased demand.
  • By Tuesday midday, 66 passengers had reserved seats on the extra trip. With only two bookings for flights to Kyiv, the 145-seater Airbus flew practically empty to pick up passengers from Ukraine.

What they’re saying: Not all passengers were anxious. “I didn’t want to leave, my husband forced me,” Inga Paurys quipped, laughing. She and her husband, Giedrius, are Lithuanians who live and work in Kyiv.

  • “He reads all these news and gets scared, and I don’t do that, so Kyiv is fine by me. Nothing has changed, we were sill visiting restaurants and sports clubs,” Inga said.
  • Estonia, one of numerous nations that have issued warnings to their residents to escape Ukraine, has invited its remaining citizens to board extra airBaltic planes and return home.
  • “Some of my friends have left Kyiv. Some don’t have anywhere to go to – they are stressed out and hope nothing happens. Other friends are preparing to fight, and some are just panicking,” said Natalia Vereshko, a Ukrainian living in France who took the flight with her daughter.
  • “But on the streets, it’s calm,” she added.

What’s going on: Airliners destined for Kyiv depart Riga with a full tank of fuel, allowing them to rapidly turn around if the situation deteriorates, according to airBaltic Chief Executive Martin Gauss.

  • “In extreme case, even if we have an aircraft in the air, we can order it to come back,” he said.
  • The under-100-euro tickets were supposed to make the extra flights profitable, according to the firm.
  • According to Gauss, bookings for flights between Kyiv and Riga for later this week are doing well, with many customers opting to go both directions.
  • On Tuesday, the Kremlin dismissed US claims that Russia was preparing to attack Ukraine as hysteria.
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