January 12th, 2016

Six-String Samurai

"У газетного киоска"(с)

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

Sydney-based Gateway Travel defends plans to take tourists on excursions around Crimea, saying ‘tough luck if the Ukrainian government doesn’t like it’
New year lights in the central square in Sevastopol, Crimea. Areas a few steps away are sunk in darkness, the streetlamps turned off because of an electricity shortage. Photograph: Alexander Polegenko/AP

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.