Alaska man stranded in Russia after flight canceled

AP News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2015 11:47 AM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Sivoy Miklahook booked his flight to Russia when there were no scheduled return flights to Alaska, but he figured something would come up while he lived out his dream of visiting friends and family on the other side of the Bering Strait.

Now the 25-year-old Alaska Native is stranded in a foreign country with no immediate way home. As his visitation deadline approaches, his friends in Alaska are rallying to raise money to charter a plane and bring him back home to Savoonga, a Yup'ik Eskimo village on Alaska's Saint Lawrence Island near the Russian border.

His mother, Carol Miklahook, said her son called recently, but their connection was poor and ultimately cut off.

"I don't know what kind of trouble he's facing," she said in a phone interview.

Sivoy Miklahook has a Nov. 14 deadline to leave, he said on Facebook, where he talks about how helpless he feels.

State Department officials said in an email Friday that they are aware of the situation but cannot comment because of privacy considerations. An agency spokeswoman referred questions about what penalties Miklahook faces to Russian authorities. Attempts to reach Russian consulate officials were not immediately successful.

Earlier this year, a friend from Russia's Chukotka region traveled to Savoonga for a visit. Miklahook was eager to have a turn visiting that friend, along with relatives, in the tiny Russian village of New Chaplino, according to his family.

Miklahook had permission to stay for 90 days after arriving in mid-August under an agreement allowing some western Alaska Natives to travel without a visa to Chukotka. The agreement, originally signed in 1989 by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, reflects long-standing family and cultural ties among many Natives on both sides of the strait. Travelers must have documented invitations from Russian residents, and they need passports. Alaska Natives were excluded the past few years because of administrative issues that were resolved in July.

When Miklahook was planning his departure from Nome, Alaska, there were no scheduled return flights. But he opted to go anyway, according to Nina Wideman. She handles Russian travel for the Bering Air, a regional airline providing the only service between Nome and Provideniya, Miklahook's airport destination.

"He sounded optimistic that something was going to pop up," Wideman said.

The airline offers only charter flights, and after Miklahook was already in Russia, a group booked an Oct. 7 charter, which he would have met in Anadyr, 275 miles from Provedeniya. That flight was ultimately canceled, and the airline has no more scheduled charters until July.

Now friends are hoping to raise nearly $4,000 to complete the $5,450 needed to charter a 230-mile flight from Provideniya to Nome. In comparison, a seat on the canceled flight would have cost just $650.

His childhood friend Michelle Kubalack set up an account on the crowdfunding site, Go Fund Me.

"I'm just worried about him, and just want him to come home safely," she said.

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Follow Rachel D'Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro