US travelers urged to leave Ukraine 'immediately if it is safe to do so' amid Russia invasion

Eve Chen

The State Department is urging Americans to avoid Ukraine and if they're already in the country, "depart immediately if it is safe to do so" amid Russia's military invasion.

"The security situation throughout Ukraine is highly volatile, and conditions may deteriorate without warning," the U.S. Embassy Kyiv posted in a travel advisory Friday. "U.S. citizens should remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. ... If you feel your current location is no longer safe, you should carefully assess the potential risks involved in moving to a different location."

Americans have been encouraged to use commercial or private ground transportation to leave the country since Ukraine's government has closed airspace to commercial flights.

Neighboring Moldova has also closed its airspace to commercial flights until March 4, due to Russia's military operations in Ukraine, according to the State Department. The department has listed a number of specific land border crossings from Ukraine into Moldova, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

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Map of flights around Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the day after Russian forces began a military operation in eastern Ukraine.

Restricting airspace

The Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday expanded the areas in Eastern Europe and Russia where U.S. airlines and U.S. commercial pilots cannot fly. The agency's Notices to Air Missions now cover all of Ukraine, Belarus and a western portion of Russia, the FAA said in a statement. Military operations are not affected.

Until Thursday, the FAA's no-fly zone in the area applied only to an eastern region of Ukraine.

The FAA did not restrict flights into the U.S. from Russia, as the United Kingdom announced Thursday. The UK Civil Aviation Authority suspended Russian carrier Aeroflot's permit "until further notice.''

"This means that Aeroflot will not be permitted to operate flights to or from the United Kingdom until further notice,'' the agency said in a statement.

The Russian government has imposed its own restrictions. 

On Friday, British Airways told USA TODAY, "We have suspended our flights to Moscow and also the use of Russian airspace, following the confirmation of Russian government restrictions. We apologise for the inconvenience but this is clearly a matter beyond our control." 

The airline is notifying impacted customers and offering full refunds as it monitors the situation, according to a statement via its global PR manager Catherine Wilson. 

On Friday, government officials from Poland and the Czech Republic said on Twitter that the countries would close their airspace to Russian airlines starting at midnight on Friday. Aeroflot in turn announced that it would suspend flights to Prague and Warsaw through March 28.

No U.S. airlines fly to Russia.

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Evacuating Ukraine

The State Department generally does not provide transportation during crises abroad, but may in some cases offer information on transportation options. A list of what it can and cannot do is available here

U.S. citizens and permanent residents in Ukraine are encouraged to complete this form so the State Department can communicate with them directly and call 606-260-4379 (overseas) or email for assistance. 

U.S. Embassy Kyiv also urged Americans to follow local state of emergency measures, carry ID, ensure travel documents are valid and easily accessible, and monitor news. 

Additional practical safety measures like seeking cover at the sound of a blast and staying away from debris after an attack were prescribed in a separate alert.

Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY