Afghanistan: Ukrainian plane evacuating citizens hijacked, taken to Iran
A Ukrainian plane that was evacuating people from Afghanistan was reportedly hijacked by unidentified persons on Tuesday. The plane was taken to Iran after it was stolen, Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Yenin reportedly said. The development comes over a week after the Taliban overthrew the government in Afghanistan. Ever since, several nations have stepped up efforts to evacuate their citizens from the country.
The Russian News Agency TASS quoted Yenin as saying, "Last Sunday, our plane was hijacked by other people. On Tuesday, the plane was practically stolen from us, it flew into Iran with an unidentified group of passengers onboard instead of airlifting Ukrainians." "Our next three evacuation attempts were also not successful because our people could not get into the airport," the minister reportedly added.
Yenin told the publication that the hijackers were armed. However, he did not reveal what happened to the plane after it was allegedly taken to Iran or what Kyiv was planning to do to get it back. Yenin meant to highlight that Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba's office "had been working in the crash test mode" the whole week.
According to the TASS report, a military transport plane carrying 83 people reached Kyiv from Kabul on Sunday. Reportedly, 31 people among those evacuated via the flight were Ukraine nationals. Reports said 100 Ukrainians still await evacuation from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Iran has reportedly released a statement acknowledging the incident, however, the country denies allegations of a hijack. Iranian Civil Aviation Organization spokesperson Mohammad Hassan Zibakhsh told the ILNA agency, "Apparently, it happened yesterday at 22:00 local/1730Z, the aircraft landed in Mashhad for 'refueling' and immediately embarked for Kyiv afterward." Zibakhsh reportedly added, "We deny the Ukrainian claims."
After the United States decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in a bid to end its two-decade-long 'War on Terror', the Taliban started advancing. Within a week, the group had taken over several provincial capitals, eventually storming the Presidential Palace in Kabul on August 15. The same day, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, saying he would have been killed had he stayed.
After Kabul fell, thousands of civilians have been attempting to flee Afghanistan. The US continues to manage the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to aid evacuation efforts. Several nations are operating flights through the Kabul airport to repatriate their citizens and rescue Afghans. The Taliban has warned against any extension on the negotiated August 31 deadline for the evacuations.