Passenger Flight Grounded As It Nears Ukrainian Airspace

A passenger flight bound for Ukraine was grounded as it approached the country's airspace at the request of the jet's Irish owner, according to the Ukrainian airline involved.

SkyUp's flight PQ0902 from Madeira, the Portuguese island, landed in the Moldovan capital, Chișinău, on Saturday after the plane's owner denied requests to let it continue into Ukraine.

It comes as several Western countries, including the United States, have called on their citizens to leave Ukraine while commercial airline services are still running, amid the fear of invasion by Russia.

A SkyUp statement translated from Ukrainian to English said the plane's owner informed the airline of an "immediate ban" on the flight entering Ukrainian airspace.

"Despite all the efforts of the airline and the readiness of the state structures of Ukraine to apply to the lessor, the owner of the aircraft categorically refused at a time when the aircraft was already flying to Kyiv," it said.

The flight's 175 passengers needed to be transferred an estimated 293.2 miles to Kyiv.

"We hope the passengers will understand the uniqueness of the situation," it added.

In a Sunday Facebook post, Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said four buses were being prepared to take the passengers to Kyiv.

He added: "We keep the situation under special control. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also ready to provide maximum assistance to SkyUp company, as well as other Ukrainian air carriers, in solving problem issues related to the implementation of their flights."

On Saturday, airline KLM announced on its website that it would stop flights to Ukraine, adding: "KLM has not been flying over the eastern regions of Ukraine and Crimea since 2014. There are now no more KLM flights through Ukrainian airspace until further notice."

Ukrainian politician Oleksiy Honcharenko said in a Sunday Facebook post, translated from Ukrainian to English, it was "possible" that air traffic in the country could be suspended from as early as 4 p.m. on Monday.

But Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian President's chief of staff, downplayed suggestions the country would close its airspace.

"The most important point is that Ukraine itself sees no point in closing the sky. This is nonsense. And, in my opinion, it somewhat resembles a kind of partial blockade," Podolyak said, according to Reuters.

Newsweek has contacted Nikolenko for comment.

The U.S. has urged all American citizens to leave Ukraine on Friday amid fears of a Russian invasion.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said an attack by the more than 100,000 Russian troops "could occur any day now."

Russia has conducted military drills and sent thousands of its troops to Belarus with convoys of anti-aircraft missile systems, the Associated Press reported.

Moscow also boasts a considerable aerial threat to Ukraine and can draw on Su-27s and Mig 29s, while Sukhoi Su-35s and Su-34s could strike high-value targets.

In recent weeks Ukrainian officials have sought to downplay U.S. statements that a Russian invasion is imminent.

SkyUp flight
A picture taken on February 20, 2020 at an airport in Kharkiv, shows airport crew members and emergency services in protective clothing during preparations for passengers to disembark from a Boeing 737 aircraft of SkyUp Airlines, after it arrived following the evacuation of Ukrainians and foreign nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the centre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak. The SkyUp plane was grounded in the European country of Moldova. Getty/SERGEI SUPINSKY / Contributor