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Ukraine airspace is now closed to civilian flights as Russia launches military attack

Feb. 24, 2022
5 min read
Ukraine airspace is now closed to civilian flights as Russia launches military attack

Editor's Note

This post has been updated with new information.

Ukraine airspace has closed to “all civil aviation” following Russia's military attack on the country.

Ukrainian authorities announced the closure on Feb. 23 at around 8 p.m. ET, citing a previous Russian announcement and a “high risk of aviation security” as the reason.

A statement by the State Enterprise of Air Traffic Services of Ukraine read: “Based on the urgent notification of the Main Centre for the Use of Aviation Space of Civil Aviation of the Russian Federation, due to the high risk of aviation security for civil aviation from 12:45 a.m. UTC (2:45 a.m. Kyiv time) closure of Ukraine's airspace for civilian airspace users.

“The provision of air traffic services to civilian users of the airspace of Ukraine is suspended. We will additionally inform about changes in the use of Ukraine's airspace.”

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United Kingdom Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also put in place a ban on aircraft flying to or from U.K. airports from using Ukraine airspace.

He tweeted: “I’ve instructed @UK_CAA [the Civil Aviation Authority] to ensure airlines avoid Ukraine airspace to keep passengers and crew safe.

“We continue to stand with the people of Ukraine and work with our international partners to respond to this act of aggression.”

Meanwhile, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has published a bulletin warning against the use of airspace across Ukraine.

It also notes that some airspace in Russia and Belarus should be avoided, adding: “As a precautionary measure, operators should exercise extreme caution and avoid using the airspace within 100 nautical miles of the Bielorussian and Russia-Ukraine border.”

The bulletin remains active for 90 days unless otherwise updated.

The Federal Aviation Administration has prohibited U.S. operations in eastern Ukraine since 2014, and made the move more permanent last fall. On Thursday, the agency broadened those restrictions, prohibiting U.S. operations in the entirety of Ukraine, Belarus as well as western Russia.

Ukraine's now empty airspace is best illustrated by flight-tracking website Flightradar24, which shows plane-free skies over the country, as well as near neighboring Moldova, and the borders with Belarus and Russia.

A screenshot from Flightradar24 taken on the morning of Feb. 24 shows no flights passing over Ukraine. (Screenshot from Flightradar24)

As many as 10 international airlines — including KLM, Lufthansa and Air France — had taken the decision to cancel flights to Ukraine in the preceding days, as the threat of military action loomed large.

In a statement Thursday morning Ryanair said that all flights to and from Ukraine will be suspended for "at least the next 14 days." The airline will also be halting the sale of flights to the region for "at least the next 4 weeks until further information becomes available from EU safety agencies."

Low-cost airline Wizz Air has also announced it has suspended its routes from London Luton Airport (LTN) to Kyiv Sikorsky International Airport (IEV) and Danylo Halytskyi International Airport Lviv (LWO), while Ukraine International Airlines has also canceled flights. Wizz Air said that it has three A320s on the ground at IEV, and another A320 on the ground at LWO.

No U.S. airlines fly to Ukraine.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv has taken to Twitter to offer advice to citizens currently in the country if they find themselves under attack — including seeking cover if they "hear a loud explosion or if sirens are activated" and ensuring they take sanctuary in "the lowest level of the structure [they are in] with the fewest exterior walls, windows, and openings." The advice also warns of the risk of falling debris from intercepted missiles or mortars.

British nationals remaining in Ukraine have been urged to leave the country by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, although it's likely that leaving the country could prove difficult due to the lack of flights out of the country.

The FCDO tweeted: "We advise British nationals to leave Ukraine immediately if you judge it is safe to do so.

"If you cannot leave safely, you should stay indoors, away from windows, and remain alert to developments that would allow you to leave safely."

At the time of writing the Ukrainian Presidency has said that more than 40 soldiers and up to 10 civilians have been killed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

Additional reporting by Jordan Waller and Ethan Klapper.

Featured image by Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images