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The Russian cosmonauts who wore the colors of Ukraine's flag to the ISS were blindsided by speculation that they were protesting the war, US astronaut says

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russia ukraine space nasa
Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev, and Denis Matveyev during a welcome ceremony after arriving at the International Space Station.Roscosmos via AP
  • Russian cosmonauts sparked speculation after they wore yellow-and-blue spacesuits last month.

  • They later said they wore those colors to represent their university, not to symbolize the Ukrainian flag.

  • NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei said Tuesday they were "blindsided" by the attention they received.

The Russian cosmonauts who wore yellow and blue — the colors of Ukraine's flag — to the International Space Station were "blindsided" by speculation that they were protesting the war, the NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei said Tuesday.

Vande Hei landed in Kazakhstan last week after spending 355 days in space.

In his first news conference since his return, Vande Hei described what life was like with his Russian colleagues on the ISS as Russia's invasion of Ukraine unfolded.

He specifically addressed the speculation surrounding the Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov after they were photographed wearing yellow-and-blue spacesuits upon their arrival on the ISS on March 18.

Yellow and blue are the colors of the Ukrainian flag, which many have been using to show support for the nation as it defends itself from Russia.

"All three of them happened to be associated with the same university, and I think they were kind of blindsided by it," Vande Hei said of his Russian crewmates, CNN reported.

Artemyev, Matveev, and Korsakov were graduates of Bauman Moscow State Technical University, which has a blue and gold coat of arms.

Vande Hei said the Russians "had no idea that people would perceive that as having to do with Ukraine," The Washington Post reported.

After photos of Artemyev, Matveev, and Korsakov wearing blue and yellow were published, multiple former NASA astronauts, including Scott Kelly and Terry Virts, speculated on social media that the Russians were showing support for Ukraine.

But Artemyev shut down the speculation on the Russian space agency's Telegram channel several days later, saying: "There is no need to look for any hidden signs or symbols in our uniform," The Associated Press reported.

"A color is simply a color. It is not in any way connected to Ukraine. Otherwise, we would have to recognize its rights to the yellow sun in the blue sky," he said. "These days, even though we are in space, we are together with our president and our people!"

During the press conference, Vande Hei declined to comment on how his Russian crew members felt about the invasion of Ukraine.

"Those are things that I would prefer that they get to share directly rather than me sharing how they feel about it," he said, CNN reported. He added that their discussions about the war were "very brief" because their main focus "was on our mission together."

Vande Hei's interview came several days after Russia's space agency chief, Dmitry Rogozin, announced that Russia was suspending its cooperation on the ISS and its partnership with NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. The US, European Union, and Canada have all sanctioned Russia over the invasion.

Tensions between Russian and US space agencies have been on the rise after Rogozin criticized the US sanctions in aggressive social-media posts and argued on Twitter with Kelly.

But Vande Hei said that the camaraderie in space remained the same.

"They were, are, and will continue to be very dear friends of mine," he said of his Russian colleagues, CNN reported. "We supported each other throughout everything. And I never had any concerns about my ability to continue to work with them."

Read the original article on Business Insider