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Russian cosmonauts on International Space Station mission arrive wearing Ukraine yellow and blue

Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev are seen during a welcome ceremony after arriving at the International Space Station, Friday, March 18.
Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev are seen during a welcome ceremony after arriving at the International Space Station, Friday, March 18.   -   Copyright  Roscosmos via AP
By David Walsh

Three Russian cosmonauts on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) emerged from their Soyuz capsule on Friday wearing the colours of the Ukraine flag.

The manned mission to the ISS is the first since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying Commander Oleg Artemyev and fellow cosmonauts flight engineers Sergey Korsakov and Denis Matveev - the first all-Russian crew in 22 years - docked with the ISS three hours after blasting off from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday evening.

Instead of their usual blue flight suits, the trio boarded the ISS wearing yellow suits with blue stripes.

In a video released by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the cosmonauts can be seen in their atypical yellow suits in a traditional welcome ceremony onboard the space station, marking the start of their six-month mission in space.

Irina Spektor/Roscosmos Space Agency
Russian cosmonauts, Commander Oleg Artemyev, centre, flight engineers Denis Мatveev, right, and Sergei Korsakov, pose after a press conference in Kazakhstan on March 17, 2022.Irina Spektor/Roscosmos Space Agency
Ludmila Sergeyeva/Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service
The Soyuz rocket carrying Russian cosmonauts Оleg Аrtemiev, Denis Мatveev and Sergei Korsakov to the ISS blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on March 17, 2022.Ludmila Sergeyeva/Roscosmos Space Agency Press Service

The mission comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the US over President Vladimir Putin's decision to launch a "special operation" in Ukraine.

While many other planned launches have been delayed by the war, the arrival of the three cosmonauts to the ISS is a continuation of a two-decades-long co-operation between the two countries in space.

The ISS has traditionally been manned by an international crew mostly from the US, Russia, and Europe. Its current crew consists of four NASA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts, and an astronaut from Europe.

Artemyev, Matveev and Korskakov will be replacing Russians Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov, and American Mark Vande Hei, who are scheduled to return to Earth on March 30.

Roscosmos via AP
The crew of the International Space Station welcomes three Russian cosmonauts, dressed in yellow, after the new arrivals docked, Friday, March 18, 2022.Roscosmos via AP

There were initially concerns that Russia would refuse to let Vande Hei return to Earth on its Soyuz capsule, leaving him stranded in space in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia by the US.

The head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, also raised eyebrows in the days after the initial invasion when he suggested the ISS could crash from the Earth's lower orbit into the US or Europe because of western sanctions on Russia.

"If you block cooperation with us, who will save the International Space Station (ISS) from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe?" Rogozin tweeted.

In response, NASA said in a statement that it "continues working with Roscosmos and our other international partners in Canada, Europe, and Japan to maintain safe and continuous ISS operations".

It added that "no changes are planned to the agency's support for ongoing in orbit and ground station operations. The new export control measures will continue to allow US-Russia civil space cooperation".