Three Russian cosmonauts have arrived at the International Space Station wearing the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
The Soyuz capsule carrying Commander Oleg Artemyev as well as Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov docked at the orbiting platform three hours after take off.
Their arrival comes amid strong tensions between the US and Russia over the invasion of Ukraine .
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In a twist, the new arrivals were all wearing the distinctive yellow and blue colours associated with the country Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded last month.
The mission continues a 20-year-shared Russian and American presence in orbit, despite the war raging below.
As the docking procedure was completed a voice from Russia’s mission control congratulated the team, according to an English translator speaking during a live Nasa webcast.
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The trio will replace those set to fly back to Earth on March 30 – cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov and U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei.
There had been concerns the Russians would refused to allow Vande Hei to travel in a Soyuz capsule and leave him marooned in space, as Putin reacted to the severe sanctions imposed by the countries in the West- including the US.
To Nasa’s relief they eventually announced he would be allowed inside, despite earlier making a veiled threat he would have to stay.
Vande Hei will have logged a NASA record-breaking 355 days in orbit by the time he returns to Kazakhstan with his two cosmonaut colleagues.
Earlier the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin cast doubt over the US astronaut’s safety and warned on Telegram western sanctions against the Kremlin could cause the ISS to crash .
Mr Vande Hei’s mother Mary told the Mail on Sunday she was reduced to tears worrying about her son’s fate.
She said “It’s a terrible threat.
“When I first heard it I did a lot of crying. It’s very troubling.
“We are just doing a lot of praying.”
Remaining aboard the space station with the newcomers until the next rotation a couple months later are NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron and German crewmate Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency.
The crew members arrived together in November aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon craft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Photo Credit: Getty