Ramaphosa arrives in Ukraine while protectors remain stuck in Poland

Amanda Khoza Presidency reporter
President Cyril Ramaphosa left Poland for Kyiv, Ukraine, leaving behind protection crew who remained stuck on their plane due to aviation regulations and bureaucracy.
President Cyril Ramaphosa left Poland for Kyiv, Ukraine, leaving behind protection crew who remained stuck on their plane due to aviation regulations and bureaucracy.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has arrived in Ukraine on Friday morning according to the Presidency's social media accounts despite his security team being held up in Poland.

According to Presidential Protection Services head Maj-Gen Wally Rhood, Ramaphosa's life was on Thursday “put in jeopardy” after highly trained members of his protection team meant to provide critical security to the president in Kyiv, Ukraine, remained stuck in the plane in Poland due to aviation regulations and bureaucracy.

PPS head Maj-Gen Wally Rhoode has accused the Polish government of “deliberately sabotaging” Ramaphosa's peace initiative after a SAA chartered plane ferrying about 120 special force members and journalists was detained on Thursday.

Hours after Ramaphosa paid a courtesy call to his counterpart, Polish President Andrzej Duda, dramatic scenes unfolded on the tarmac of the Warsaw Chopin Airport.

Pointing to his colleague, Rhoode told the media: “She tried for four hours to get in here, she was strip-searched. It has never happened that we have strip-searched someone with a diplomatic passport, just to get us out of here.”

He was referring to an incident where a senior female PPS official was trying to organise accommodation for the police and members of the media. Shortly before the drama ensued she had entered the plane and informed the journalists the police would be offering accommodation to female reporters. However after leaving, she never returned to fetch the female journalists.

“Now they say that we don't have permits, we have permits. The only difference is that they are saying we cannot bring a copy of a permit, we must bring the original.

“Some of us have original permits and the embassy here (Poland) printed permits because they thought it was not necessary to have the originals here.”

Rhoode added: “Now, all of a sudden we must have permits and are putting the life of our president in jeopardy because we could have been in Kyiv (Ukraine) this afternoon already.

“This is what they are doing and I want you to see that when we started to open the packages, they wanted to rush to confiscate our firearms and that is why we had to put it back.”

Rhoode was referring to the 12 containers carrying weaponry South Africa brought along to protect Ramaphosa and his delegation.

Earlier Ramaphosa met Duda and other officials, accompanied by international relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor, special envoy Bejani Chauke and legal adviser Nonkululeko Jele, ahead of his peace initiative to bring an end to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

After their brief meeting, Ramaphosa's Inkwazi Jet made its way to Rzeszów, where Ramaphosa took a train to Kyiv, where he is expected to meet Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky.

After this, he is expected to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg on Saturday.

TimesLIVE reported earlier the “road to peace” journey had been marred by technical challenges, red tape and logistical issues even before the flight left South African shores.

The media contingent covering the mission, which travelled abroad with specialised police officers including members of the army, PPS and counter assault team among others, was not allowed to disembark when the plane landed in Poland.

The group of more than 120, which left South Africa at about 1.30am on Thursday, experienced challenges two hours before arriving in Warsaw. The flight was flagged in Mediterranean waters after it failed to get clearance to fly over Italian airspace. The plane flew in circles about six times before resuming its route to Warsaw.

The flight eventually landed at the Warsaw Chopin Airport in Poland at about 1.18pm. During the flight, the presidency tweeted Ramaphosa had arrived for his working visit to Poland and Ukraine.

The crew and media which were meant to take another flight to Rzeszów airport, to drop off an advance team and some media who were expected to join Ramaphosa on the Kyiv leg of the trip.

The media was informed there were “issues” with the plane that was meant to transport them to Rzeszów as the “chartered flight had not arrived”.

After waiting an hour, the media was informed Ramaphosa had departed in his Nkwazi jet to Rzeszów to make his way to Kyiv, Ukraine.

Members of the special forces were still in the plane when Ramaphosa started his arduous journey to Kyiv.

At this stage it was not clear whether his counterparts from Egypt, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Congo Brazzaville had arrived in the region.

During the wait the cargo was offloaded, while the media and special forces waited for clearance.

Ramaphosa's security left the plane where they were briefed and, on arrival, a source told TimesLIVE the procured chartered flight had not arrived and the embassy had been roped in to assist.

After four hours of waiting the pilot and crew came to the back of the plane where they were heard talking about the matter.

After the brief meeting at the back of the plane, the pilot announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have experienced so many challenges and have done so much to make things work, however I am very proud to be the captain of this flight and team of cabin crew.

“At this point I just wanted to inform you that given the challenges that we are experiencing here, this crew has decided that they are going to remain here on the plane with you, while we allow the pilots to have their minimum requirements by law of time off.

“As soon as we have that minimum time off required by law, they will be back and we shall then make a plan to complete the mission.”

TimesLIVE understands the minimum required rest is about 10 hours.

A source told TimesLIVE the pilot was to blame for the logistical nightmare.

“The pilot was supposed to head straight to Rzeszów but he diverted to Warsaw.”

TimesLIVE understands an altercation then ensued between the SAA crew because some of the members wanted to go to sleep because of aviation rules.

The special forces were then faced with a predicament of how to get to Kyiv in time to support and protect the president.

The source said: “One of the options on the table was to procure the Russian plane UR-CBG flight parked at the Poland airport to fly us to the border of Ukraine and then take a bus to Kyiv.”

By 6pm Ramaphosa was making his way to Kyiv with the special force members left behind on the tarmac.

By 2am SA time, the security personnel and the media had been stuck inside the plane for about 12 hours.


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