Nine Russians have been given permits to climb peaks in Nepal this spring, despite calls from Ukrainian diplomats and mountaineers for them to be banned after President Putin sent troops into Ukraine.
A diplomatic note from the Ukrainian embassy in Delhi to Nepal’s government says numerous international sports federations have barred Russian athletes.
“Taking into consideration the above, the esteemed Nepalese side is kindly requested to ban Russian mountaineering teams until the end of [the] Russian invasion into Ukraine,” the letter reads.
But officials in Nepal say they are continuing to issue permits to anyone abiding by the government’s rules and regulations
“There has been no change in our policy so far,” the director general of Nepal’s tourism department, Taranath Adhikari, told the BBC.
“We believe our mountains are global assets and any countries’ citizens willing to visit them for attainment of peace should be allowed to do so – as long as they do it within our legal provisions.”
The Ukrainian embassy in Delhi says it made its request to the Nepalese embassy in the Indian capital on 21 March, but Nepalese embassy officials told the BBC they had received no communication on the issue.
For the spring climbing season, which usually lasts until the end of May, one Russian climber has received a permit to climb Annapurna I (8,091m) while eight others have been given permits for peaks below 6,500m.
“We have carried on with our usual policy. Moreover, the government has not said anything in this regard, so we have not taken any new decision,” says Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) president Santa Bir Lama.
Irina Galay, who describes herself as the first Ukrainian woman to ascend Everest and K2, the world’s highest and second highest mountains, wrote on Instagram that Russians should not have the privilege of climbing “as long as war is continued”.
“No peace, no climb. Hopefully soon we will have peace and climb.”
Oleg Ivanchenko, a Ukrainian mountain guide, was planning to climb Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse this spring with two of his clients, but had to cancel after the Russian invasion.
“I know some people say mountains are sacred and it is not a place for politics, but we expect support from Russian mountaineers as well, and they can protest – or at least not climb, and stay in Russia,” he says.
No Ukrainian climbers are now expected this spring.
“We had around 35 climbers from Ukraine coming in for different mountains including Everest but all of them have cancelled,” says Mingma Sherpa, chairman of Seven Summit Treks, a mountaineering and trekking operator in Nepal.
“We have seen cancellations from Russians as well as other European climbers because of the war.”
Nepal’s department of tourism has so far issued permits for 18 expedition teams to climb mountains above 6,000m this spring season.
Of the 135 climbers in these teams, only one is from Russia.
More permits may be issued before mountaineers usually begin their final ascent in May, so the total number could change. However, expedition operators say the war has caused a significant decline in business.
Last year, in the spring and autumn climbing seasons, 49 Russians and 19 Ukrainians were registered on Nepalese mountains higher than 8,000m, according to the Himalayan Database, which records data related to mountaineering in the Nepalese Himalayas.
Out of them, 14 Russian and six Ukrainian climbers were on Everest.
A record number of more than 400 foreign climbers were given permits for Everest alone in 2021. But permits have been issued for only one Everest expedition of nine climbers this spring season, which is traditionally busier than the autumn.
Officials with the Expedition Operators’ Association of Nepal say they are neutral while dealing with mountaineers.
“We are professional operators, and we serve our clients irrespective of their nationalities,” says association president Dambar Parajuli.