Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, has denounced Ukraine for joining the European Union in closing its airspace to Belarussian aircraft and said that in response, Belarus would no longer accept any flights from Ukrainian territory.

“We must create equal conditions for our Belavia (B2, Minsk National) aircraft. If we have to fly this way, we will force others to fly this way to Belarus too,” he told reporters outside a children’s hospital in Minsk on June 19, as quoted by the news agency BelTA.

Referring to the fact that the hospital had provided services for some Ukrainian families, he said: “We save their people here and will continue to do this. They, however, have decided to close their airspace for us, and we have to make a circle around them to get to Turkey and beyond.”

Speaking dressed in a white doctors’ coat, he initially assured that Belarus would not yet be enforcing compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations across the country, despite a recent sharp rise in cases in Russia, but “if such a situation arises here, this principle will certainly be introduced.”

Hospital staff present then asked about the possibilities of travelling abroad during the summer. The EU’s non-binding recommendations, which banned all Belarus-flagged carriers and aircraft from operations to and over the bloc from June 5, aimed to penalise the country for the forced May 23 diversion of a Ryanair B737-800, en-route from Athens Int'l to Vilnius, followed by the arrest of two opposition journalists on board.

Lukashenko recommended that the hospital staff consider the current situation and spend their vacation within Belarus, as all the necessary conditions to do this had been created. There are also opportunities, he added, to travel to resorts in and via Russia.

“As for the Black Sea, Sochi, and Georgia, they are quite popular right now, and there are no problems with flights there, of course, as long as all the necessary tests are performed,” he said.

Meanwhile, Belarus’ neighbour Lithuania, an EU member that is one of Lukashenko’s loudest critics and has provided refuge to his political rival Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has claimed that migrants, many of them from Iraq, have been pouring across the border in recent weeks. It accused Lukashenko of organising the influx, allowing Belarusian border guards to turn a blind eye to the movement. After the EU introduced its ban, Lukashenko had vowed to unleash “migrants and drugs” on the bloc.