TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The Russian government’s ban on direct flights between Russia and Georgia came into effect on Monday, affecting thousands of travelers.
The flight ban deals a serious economic blow to the South Caucasus nation, which has annually hosted more than 1 million Russian tourists, attracted by its scenic mountains, lush sea coast and the renowned wine culture.
President Vladimir Putin introduced the ban last month following violent protests in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, set off by the visit of a Russian lawmaker to the parliament. The lawmaker’s appearance stoked long-hold animosity over Russia’s support for Georgia’s two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The last direct flight between Russia and Georgia landed in Moscow on Sunday evening. Travelers will now have to use other destinations for a layover.
Oksana Litvyak from the town of Tosno outside Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg grew up in Georgia and was planning a vacation there when the ban was announced.
Litvyak, whose parents and sister live in Georgia, bought the tickets to Tbilisi for August the day before the protests triggered the ban.
She has since got a refund and started looking for another option of getting there.
“I broke down and cried and got really angry but then started looking for new tickets,” she said. “This ban has hit ordinary people the worst because Russia and Georgia are tied together by centuries of history.”
Litvyak found cheaper tickets on a Belarusian airline and will have to make a layover in Minsk.