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Nearly 1,000 Ukrainian tourists stranded in Zanzibar

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Tanzania said it would look after hundreds of Ukrainian tourists stranded in its Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar after Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian flights following Russia's invasion.

Nearly 1,000 tourists from Ukraine were staying at different hotels in the semi-autonomous region, Zanzibar’s Tourism Minister Lela Mohammed Mussa said on Monday.

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“The first thing we did is to ensure they remain where they are even if their time to check out had come,” Mussa said.

“We let them stay in the hotels, and be served as human beings.”

Famed for its turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and spice plantations, Zanzibar relies heavily on tourism and before the COVID-19 pandemic it welcomed about half a million visitors a year.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its Western-backed neighbor Ukraine last week, killing hundreds of people as air strikes hit military installations and ground forces moved in from the north, south and east.

Ukraine responded by closing its airspace to civilian flights, citing a “high risk to safety.”

The tourists in Zanzibar will be cared for and “given all the services, comfort and remain free,” said Mussa.

Plans are under way to evacuate the tourists -- some of whom are housed in a hotel run by a Russian -- to countries such as Poland, the minister said.

“What is happening in Ukraine is making them extremely unhappy,” Yulia Baystrukova who runs the Zanzi Resort told AFP.

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