A teacher whose father suffers from cancer is one of many American citizens trapped in Russia after the cancellation of the last passenger flight to the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Grace Mitchell, 26, told NBC News that she had no plans to leave her home in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don until she receives a phone call from her mother telling her that her father’s cancer has gotten worse.
“All we could really do was try to leave the last flight from Russia because if I don’t get a flight soon, I will probably never see my father again,” said Mitchell.
On April 3, along with hundreds of other passengers, the Washington State English teacher boarded Aeroflot flight 102 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, thinking it was his last. chance to go home.
It was one of the few flights available from Russia, as many had been canceled when the country’s government limited international travel in its efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow also warned that the flight, which was scheduled to depart from Moscow to New York on April 3, may be the last of the month.
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Critical care nurse Elena Salomatina, 40, also hoped to return home to help colleagues at Georgetown University Hospital in the District of Columbia treat the influx of COVID-19 patients.
She said that she had already canceled two flights by the time she boarded Flight 102, which was then aborted before takeoff.
“I feel so guilty for sitting here,” she said.
Aeroflot later said in a statement that the flight had been canceled “following a decision by the Russian aeronautical authorities to suspend all permits previously granted to carriers for charter flights in order to repatriate Russian citizens and the CIS” .
NBC News has contacted the Russian government for comment.
The U.S. embassy then sent an alert saying it was organizing a charter flight from Moscow next week with permission from the Russian government.
“They want us to sign up for the charter flight and wait for the emails,” said Mitchell. “So it’s like a pending match. That’s what it does. “
Until then, passengers had to look for accommodation and wait for information. Some stay in hotels, but others just stay at the airport.
Marina Ivanova, 48, said she stayed in the airport transfer area because she had no money to spend on a hotel. A permanent resident of the United States, she added that she hoped to return home to Los Angeles.
Pending news, passengers said they use social media to stay connected and up to date with the latest information.
“The people who live near Moscow offer their apartments and their stuff, which is really cool,” said Mitchell.
Salomatina added that it had been therapeutic to connect with other passengers.
“In fact, we met at the airport, and it was like therapy,” she said. “They are very supportive. We support each other and we have hope. “
As of April 3, more than 22,000 Americans abroad are still turning to the United States government for help getting home, according to estimates by the United States Department of State. President Trump recently announced that the department had coordinated the return of more than 40,000 Americans from 75 countries.
“We hope the United States government will help us,” said Salomatina. “This is what we are counting on. “