Passengers board Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 578 from Moscow to Kiev at Domodedovo airport on Saturday, the last day of flights between the two countries. (Brendan Hoffman/Prime for The Washington Post)

Before the conflict in southeast Ukraine, Alexander Martynov, 37, could hop in his car and drive five hours across the Ukrainian border to Krasnodar, Russia, where he keeps warehouses stocked with produce for local supermarkets.

But as tensions between Russia and Ukraine persisted over the past year and a half, Martynov’s commute became more complicated.

When the city where he lives, Donetsk, was seized by pro-Russian separatists in April 2014, he fled to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. From there, the businessman said, he could catch a flight to Krasnodar with a short layover in Moscow.

Then his situation got worse.

On Sunday, Ukraine and Russia cut direct air travel in tit-for-tat actions that are expected to affect 680,000 passengers each year, most of them Ukrainian. The flight ban drives yet another wedge between two countries with centuries of historical and familial ties.

Flight attendants serve drinks to passengers on board Ukrainian International Airlines flight 578 from Moscow to Kiev on October 24 in Moscow. (Brendan Hoffman/Prime for The Washington Post)

Passengers aboard the last flights from Moscow to Kiev on Saturday were particularly angry at moves that would likely have little political impact but cause massive headaches for travelers who shuttle between the two countries.

When Ukraine’s Boryspil airport, the country’s main air hub, opened during the Soviet era, the only destination available was Russia. As of Sunday, flights were going everywhere except Russia.

“It is total nonsense,” a furious Martynov, heavyset and bald, said in Moscow on Saturday. During an interview in the passport line, he described himself as a “Ukrainian patriot” but said that he wanted normalized relations with Russia.

“Ask anyone here. We are all hostages of the politicians,” he said.

Kiev announced the ban on flights in late September as part of a package of sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its subsequent steps to take control of the peninsula.

In response, Russia announced it would likely block Ukrainian flights starting on the same day.

Alexei Makarkin, a Moscow-based political analyst, said Ukraine was doing all it could to cut itself off from Russia.

Passengers board Ukrainian International Airlines flight 578 from Moscow to Kiev at Domodedovo airport on October 24 in Moscow. (Brendan Hoffman/Prime for The Washington Post)

“Tension on the front lines is reduced,” he said in a telephone interview, referring to a lull in fighting between Russian-backed separatists and government troops in recent months in Ukraine’s southeast. “But the psychological tension is stronger than ever.”

Last-minute negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian governments last week failed to break the stalemate over the airline flights. The ban took effect early Sunday, striking at businessmen, families visiting their relatives, the occasional tourist and transit passengers.

For many passengers, the decision in Kiev to ban Russian airlines came as a shock.

“Strategically you would have expected it a year ago, not now,” said Oksana Timchenko, a lawyer from Odessa, Ukraine, dressed in a sable coat, diamond earrings and leather boots with stiletto heels on Saturday.

She was taking Ukraine International Airlines’ penultimate flight from Moscow after visiting family, she said, but would often fly through Russia en route to Miami and New York.

“Turkey’s going to make a lot of money,” she said, explaining that she would probably schedule future flights through Istanbul.

She called the flight ban “window dressing” by the Ukrainian government, which she said was more interested in brinkmanship with Russia than in tackling corruption and other domestic problems.

Oleg Panteleyev, head of the Russian aviation information agency AviaPort, said that the airline ban would affect an average of 680,000 travelers between Ukraine and Russia each year. Panteleyev said that the ratio of Ukrainian to Russian passengers on the flights was at least 2-to-1, or even 3-to-1.

According to Russia’s Federal Aviation Agency, more than 800,000 people flew between Russia and Ukraine in the first eight months of 2015. The agency does not release statistics by nationality of the passengers.

Maya Lomidze, the executive director of Russia’s Association of Tour Operators, said that tourism travel from Russia to Ukraine dropped steeply after the February 2014 revolution that ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian government.

“It’s at zero,” she said.

Most of the passengers traveling Saturday were visiting relatives. Many Ukrainians have family in Russia because people moved freely between the two countries when they were part of the Soviet Union.

On Saturday, Sergey Turumsubayev, a 31-year-old mechanic from Boryspil , Ukraine, was returning home from his grandparents’ home in Moscow.

“I’m not for either side,” he said. “I’m happy to say I’m apolitical.”

Turumsubayev’s family offers a good example of the interconnectedness under the Soviet Union.

His father, a Soviet military officer, was deployed from Russia to Boryspil and married a woman who grew up in the town. Turumsubayev’s paternal grandparents live in Moscow. Others relatives live in Saratov and Belgorod, cities in Russia. Another of his grandfathers is from Kazakhstan, another former Soviet republic.

Others on Saturday’s flight were also visiting relatives. A young woman named Olga was traveling to her aunt’s funeral in Odessa. A 58-year-old woman was flying back to Odessa after visiting her mother’s grave in the Moscow region.

Lyudmilla Temirsalina, a television producer who lives near Kiev, said she was in Russia to film a reality television show called “Battle of the Hair Salons.”

With the flight ban in effect, she said, the cast and crew would have to take a 30-hour train ride from Saratov back to Kiev. The flight from Moscow lasted just under an hour and 20 minutes.

Asked about the decision to ban flights, she said, “I think everyone is a little bit disappointed.”

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