In Crimea, Feature Articles

Australian firm accused of ‘selling out’ for wanting to run tours to Crimea

RT.com, Jan 12, 2016

‘Tough luck, Crimea is part of Russia’ says tour company head in response to condemnations by Ukrainian nationalists in Australia of plans for Crimea travel.

Alushta, Crimea (Vladimir Sergeev, Sputnik)

Alushta, Crimea (Vladimir Sergeev, Sputnik)

An Australian travel company learned the hard way that you don’t just promote travel to Crimea and expect not to be condemned for it. Gateway Travel has been accused of “selling out” to Russia, which some accuse of being involved in the MH17 downing over Ukraine.

The Sydney-based company wants to run tours to Russia’s Crimea, which seceded from Ukraine and joined the Russian Federation following a March 2014 referendum. The tour decision has sparked a complaint from the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations, which represents 24 of the country’s most prominent Ukrainian organizations.

Read also: Report of Australian coroner into MH17: More questions than answers, by James ONeill, published in New Eastern Outlook, Jan 6, 2016

The federation’s chairman, Stefan Romaniw, tore into the company, which announced in mid-December that it was launching tours to the Crimean peninsula, set to start between May and October 2016. “Selling out to those who have little regard for Australian values, who stand accused of shooting down MH17 and supporting those who invaded Crimea goes against the grain of Australian sentiment at this time,” the Australian Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Romaniw wrote a letter to the Australian government to complain.

New Years Eve 2015 in Simferopol, Crimea

New Years Eve 2015 in Simferopol, Crimea

Gateway Travel has defended its position, however. Its spokeswoman, Tonia Kisliakov, said Tuesday that the decision was “non-political.”

“If people want to go to Crimea and we can get them a Russian visa, they can go,” she said. “If the Ukrainian government doesn’t like it: well, tough luck. It belongs to Russia at the moment.”

“If it returns back to Ukraine later on, which I sincerely doubt, then it will become Ukrainian. But I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with this, because people will go.”

The Australian government has sided with Western powers over the conflict in Ukraine. After the shooting down of the MH17 airliner, which killed 298 people, including 38 Australians, two years ago, it has been doing its outmost to respond to Russia’s “threat to the sovereignty of Ukraine” – first, by not recognizing Crimea as part of Russia, then, one year ago, by launching a fresh round of sanctions against Moscow.

Australian travel authorities continue to caution against “all travel” to Crimea, citing a “very high risk,” adding that existing regular travel insurance policies would be void and that the Australian government would be of no help if anything untoward happened.

In October, Dutch investigators released the long-awaited report on their examination of the downed plane. They concluded that it was a BUK missile that hit the plane after it was fired from Ukrainian territory – somewhere within a 320-square-km radius of a spot in the east of the country.

However, the report did not specify who controlled the territory at the time – Ukrainian forces or the rebels. The investigators also blamed the Ukrainian authorities for not closing airspace over the area, although they knew that several aircraft had been shot down in the region and that weapons were used that were capable of hitting a passenger plane.

Sydney travel firm offering Crimea tour accused of ‘selling out’ to MH17 accused

By Australian Associated Press, Jan 12, 2016

An Australian travel company has been accused of “selling out” to those blamed for the shooting down of flight MH17 after announcing plans to organise tours of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia two years ago.

Sydney-based Gateway Travel has defended plans to take tourists on excursions around Crimea, which is still recognised by the Australian government as being part of Ukraine.

The Australian government last year expanded sanctions against Russia in response to its “threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” including the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

A spokeswoman for Gateway Travel said the decision to organise tours of Crimea was “non-political”.

“If people want to go to Crimea and we can get them a Russian visa, they can go,” she said. “If the Ukrainian government doesn’t like it, well tough luck. It belongs to Russia at the moment,” Tonia Kisliakov said on Tuesday.

“If it returns back to Ukraine later on, which I sincerely doubt, then it will become Ukrainian. But I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with this because people will go.”

The Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations said it had written to the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, and was awaiting a response. It also planned to raise the matter with Gateway Travel.

The federation’s chairman, Stefan Romaniw, said the tour plans should be condemned.

“Selling out to those who have little regard for Australian values, who stand accused of shooting down MH17 and supporting those who invaded Crimea goes against the grain of Australian sentiment at this time,” he said.

Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. Russia has been accused of involvement in the disaster that cost the lives of all 298 people aboard, including 38 Australian citizens or residents.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continues to advise against “all travel” to Crimea due to “very high risk”. It warns that regular travel insurance policies would be void and that the Australian government is unlikely to be able to provide consular assistance.

Gateway Travel said it always warned would-be travellers of the government’s travel advice.

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