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Americans play the 'waiting game' after last passenger plane from Moscow canceled

"If I don't get a flight soon, then I probably won't see my dad ever again," said Grace Mitchell.
A group of passengers waits in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport after their flight was canceled.
A group of passengers waits in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport after their flight was canceled.Grace Mitchell

A teacher whose father is suffering from cancer is one of scores of American citizens trapped in Russia after the last passenger flight to the U.S. was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Grace Mitchell, 26, told NBC News that she had had no plans to leave her home in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia until she got a phone call from her mother saying her father’s cancer had taken a turn for the worse.

"All we could do, really, was try to get the last flight out of Russia, because if I don't get a flight soon, then I probably won't see my dad ever again," Mitchell said.

IMAGE: Grace Mitchell
A selfie photo of passenger Grace Mitchell showing the mask she was wearing in preparation for a flight at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport.Grace Mitchell

So on Friday, along with hundreds of other passengers, Mitchell, an English teacher from Washington state,boarded Aeroflot Flight 102 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, thinking it was her last chance to get home.

It was one of the few flights available out of Russia, as many had been canceled when the country's government restricted international travel to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow had also warned that the flight, which was scheduled to go from Moscow to New York on Friday, could be the last one for the month.

Intensive care nurse Elena Salomatina, 40, was also hoping to fly home so she could help her colleagues at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., treat the influx of patients infected with COVID-19.

She said two flights had already canceled by the time she boarded Flight 102, which was then canceled before takeoff.

"I feel so guilty just sitting here," she said.

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Aeroflot said later in a statement that the flight was canceled "following a decision by Russian aviation authorities to suspend all permits previously granted to carriers for charter flights to repatriate Russian and CIS citizens."

"CIS" stands for Commonwealth of Independent States, the regional union of Russia and 11 former Soviet republics.

NBC News has asked the Russian government for comment.

The U.S. Embassy later sent an alert saying it was organizing a charter flight from Moscow this week with the permission of the Russian government.

"They want us to sign up for the charter flight and wait for emails," Mitchell said. "So it's just like a waiting game. That's what it feels like."

Until then, passengers have had to seek lodging and wait for information. Some are staying in hotels, but others have simply stayed in the airport.

Marina Ivanova, 48, said she remained in the airport's transfer zone because she did not have the money to spend on a hotel. Ivanova, a permanent resident in the U.S., added that she was hoping to return home to Los Angeles.

Passengers said that as they await news, they have been using social media to stay connected and up to date with the latest information.

"People who live near Moscow have been offering their apartments and stuff, which is really cool," Mitchell said.

Salomatina added that it had been therapeutic to connect with other passengers.

"We met in the airport, actually, and it was like therapy," she said. "They're very supportive. We support each other, and we keep our hopes up."

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As of Friday, more than 22,000 Americans in foreign countries were still looking to the U.S. government for help getting back home, according to State Department estimates. President Donald Trump recently announced that the department had coordinated the return of more than 40,000 Americans from 75 countries.

"Our hope is that the American government will help us," Salomatina said. "That's what we're relying on."