Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include new information.
Seventeen citizens of Ukraine have been detained at the airport in Athens, Greece after not being allowed to enter the country due to the European Union’s current entry ban for nationals of most non-EU countries, the Evropeiska Pravda news site reported.
After arriving in Athens from Kyiv on July 4, the Ukrainians were not allowed to pass through Greek passport control. Instead, 15 adults and two children aged 8 and 9 were placed in cells at a police station located on the territory of the airport.
After spending a night in custody, the Ukrainians complain that they are being held in terrible conditions. Bunk beds lack pillows and mattresses, there is no toilet paper or soap for washing hands and dead cockroaches litter the floor, they said. The detainees say they were not provided with food or water.
All the passengers’ belongings, including their laptops, were confiscated, although they were allowed to keep their cell phones, but without chargers. One woman, who was not identified, shot a video of the holding area and shared it with Evropeiska Pravda.
The Ukrainians will have to remain in these conditions until they return home. That will happen no earlier than July 7, the soonest date when there is a flight to Ukraine.
Another passenger, who was only identified as Maksym, told Evropeiska Pravda that, before departing Kyiv, some of the Ukrainians, who traveled from Igor Sikorsky Kyiv International Airport, had gone through strict passport control procedures where they had shown documents confirming that they tested negative for COVID-19.
However, after they arrived in Athens, Greek border officials “tried to force us to sign deportation orders, and we refused,” Maksym said.
After detaining the Ukrainians, the Greek authorities allowed them to meet with a Ukrainian consul, Serhiy Pohoreltsev, director of the Department of Consular Services at Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry told the Suspilne public broadcaster on July 5.
“The consul bought some water and personal care items, and has already left for the airport,” said Pohoreltsev. He said that the Ukrainians were not officially detained.
The consul brought soap, antiseptic, water, toilet paper and mattresses for the detainees. Also, the Wizzair and RyanAir airlines have helped provide food for their Ukrainian passengers.
It is still unсlear what the purpose of most of the Ukrainians’ visit was and when exactly they will be returned home. According to Pohoreltsev, the ministry will provide more information about the situation on July 6.
One woman, however, did go public with her situation. Ania Valevska wrote on Facebook that she was attempting to travel to her university in Paris and that she was supposed to have a layover in Athens. She said the travelers had suggested to the Ukrainian consul that they could simply buy tickets on earlier flights to other countries that allow Ukrainians to enter. However, they were told that they would only be allowed to depart for Ukraine.
“Interestingly, we had 2 young Americans in the room. According to them, they arrived on 04.07 at around 4 p.m. from the US, and have just left to take their plane to Canada (the issue was resolved in less than 24 hrs),” Valevska wrote. “So technically it IS possible to arrive from one country and ‘return’ to another.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a small number of countries have reopened their borders to Ukrainian tourists. Greece is not among them.
Since July 1, only citizens of 14 countries deemed safe can cross EU borders. Among them are Georgia, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand. Ukraine is not on the list.
Currently, Ukraine does not meet EU standards for the bloc to open its borders to Ukrainian citizens. For that to happen, Ukraine must have fewer than 20 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people for the past 14 days. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, the country currently has twice that number.
The Embassy of Ukraine in Greece is now trying to prevent the detained Ukrainians from being formally deported, which would result in a multi-year entry ban for them, Serhiy Shutenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Greece, told Evropeiska Pravda.
The embassy called on Ukrainians to check whether they are allowed into a country during the global COVID-19 pandemic before attempting to travel there. The Foreign Ministry has created an interactive map to assist them with this.