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Russia-Ukraine direct flights to stop from Sunday

Moscow, Oct 24 (IANS) Russia and Ukraine will close their airspace to each other’s airlines from Sunday, ending direct flights between the two countries, the media reported.

The restrictions will affect around a million passengers each year and annual ticket sales by Ukrainian and Russian airlines worth 7-8 billion rubles ($110 million-$125 million), Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said. The restrictions were announced last month.

They are the latest move in the confrontation that followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where about 8,000 people have been killed since mid-2014, the Moscow Times reported.

The airspace closures will hit Ukrainians harder. According to Sokolov, 70 percent of air passengers between the two countries are Ukrainian nationals, tens of thousands of whom migrate to Russia in search of work.

“With this measure, Ukrainian authorities are first and foremost forcing their own citizens into transport isolation,” Sokolov said.

One affected Ukrainian is Anton Petrus, a 29-year-old photographer and manager at travel agency Adventure Team, which arranges extreme tours in Russia. Petrov travels to various places in Russia from his home in Kiev several times a month for work.

When news of the ban broke in late September, his ticket to Moscow on October 25 became void.

He changed it, and will be on the last direct flight from Kiev on Saturday.

Last minute talks to find a compromise are under way – so far to no avail – and the chances of success look slim.