Perplexity in Ukraine over embassy flights and calls for foreigners to leave the country

Some thirty countries ask their nationals to leave for fear of Russian invasion

3 min
German Embassy on January 23, 2022 in Kiev, Ukraine

Barcelona"These last few days we all live with the feeling of being a cancer patient who is wasting away. The doctors who have diagnosed him and left him with medicines have promised him that they would beat the disease, and then left to watch him agonise on television." This is how Sergiy Garmash, the Ukrainian representative in the Trilateral Contact Group, one of the bodies created within the framework of the Minsk agreements, describes the feeling in Ukraine in the face of the calls by the US and EU governments for their nationals to leave the country in the face of an imminent Russian invasion. "At first you are fine, but when everyone around you tells you that you will die, you eventually succumb to this hysteria, and then what do you have to do? No one gives you a clear answer. You only have the nurses saying that everything will be fine, but they can't explain the doctors' escape either, nor their fatal diagnosis, nor their confidence."

With 130,000 Russian troops mobilised on Ukraine's borders, the United States was the first to step up, on Friday, announcing the withdrawal of most of its diplomatic staff from Kiev and advising its nationals to leave the country as soon as they could. It was followed by Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Belgium, Norway, Finland or even Kuwait and Saudi Arabia: as many as thirty countries. Spain did so on Saturday: "Given the volatile security situation, it is recommended not to travel to Ukraine. Spaniards currently in that country are recommended to seriously consider leaving it temporarily by commercial means available, as long as the current circumstances persist." The EU ambassador remains in Kiev, and so do most senior European diplomatic representatives, but they have asked their non-essential staff to telework from abroad. The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has said that "it is preferable to follow the situation from the ground." France is merely recommending that non-essential travel be postponed and advises against travel to the border areas with Russia and Belarus.

"Absolutely illogical"

The United States may still be under the Saigon syndrome after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, but in the case of Ukraine it becomes difficult to think that Russian troops were primarily targeting expatriate Europeans or Americans in the country. "What is going on with the diplomatic missions of our western partners makes no sense at all: it is absolutely illogical," Garmash continues.

"The whole world knows not only Putin's intentions to attack us but even the date of the attack! So what? If everyone knows there will be a war, why instead of acting preemptively they just run away from the potential battlefield? Taking away the embassies in Kiev, the Civilized West the defender of the values of democracy and freedom, seems to be encouraging Putin to attack us. The West packs its bags and wishes us a good day under Russian bombs."

In Kiev, day-to-day life continues, as widespread calls to leave the country leave many feeling left to their own devices. "Everything has gone very fast, there is a sense of bewilderment," journalist Olga Tokariuk tells ARA in a telephone conversation from Kiev. "In the case of nationals and embassies it is understandable, but the withdrawal of military [European and American advisors who have been training the Ukrainian army for years] or OSCE observers, who are the only international presence in the Donbass regions, is hard to understand."

Public insurance for airlines

After major international insurers announced on Saturday that they will withdraw coverage for planes flying over Ukraine because of the risk of conflict, the government in Kiev has stepped up to the plate by opening a $592 million (€523 million) fund to insure companies that continue to operate within its airspace. The money will come out of the state budget and will be put into a deposit that will be used to "ensure the safety of flights over Ukraine by insurers, reinsurers, insurance and leasing companies and airlines."

The case of the Malaysia Airlines flight code-shared with KLM that was shot down in 2014 over the Donbass with 298 people on board is a precedent that has not been forgotten,