TEHRAN -- Both Ukraine and Iran denied on Tuesday reports that a Ukrainian plane that was evacuating Ukrainians from Afghanistan on Sunday was hijacked by armed hijackers and flown to Iran instead.
“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,” said Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Yevhenii Yenin to the Ukrainian Hromadske Radio on Tuesday.
The Iranian Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) denied the report, saying that the plane refueled in Mashhad and then flew to Kiev.
“The Civil Aviation Organization categorically rejects the issue of hijacking and disappearance of the plane,” said CAO spokesman Muhammad-Hassan Zibakhsh.
Shortly after, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement asserting that no plane had been hijacked.
“There are no captured Ukrainian planes in Kabul or elsewhere. The information about the ‘captured plane’ that is being circulated by some media outlets is not true,” Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, said.
Nikolenko said Yenin was only generally explaining the unprecedented level of difficulties that diplomats had to face in evacuating Ukrainians. It is unclear why Yenin said that plane was hijacked by armed persons and “actually stolen”.
Mainstream media, especially Western news agencies, pounced on the false claim to draw a parallel to a January 2020 incident in which a Ukrainian jetliner was mistakenly shot down over Iran, killing 176 people. Iran’s armed forces said it mistook the passenger plane for a hostile target in the tense aftermath of its ballistic missile attack on two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops in response to the cowardly assassination of General Qassem Soleimani.
A military transport plane from Afghanistan with 83 people onboard, including journalists, activists, and Afghan women and children, arrived in Kyiv on Sunday, Reuters reported.
The Ukrainian presidential office said around 100 Ukrainians were still waiting to be evacuated from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover last week.
The group’s takeover of the country last weekend caught the U.S. and its allies off guard, coming just two weeks before an August 31 deadline for all troops to fully withdraw from the country.