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Russians flee war-ravaged Syria for Moscow overnight

The first Russian citizens evacuated from Syria arrive in Moscow overnight.

1st batch of 77 Russian citizens evacuated via Beirut in rescue operation

Passengers on a Russian Emergencies Ministry flight from Beirut arrive at Moscow's Domodedovo airport early Wednesday morning. Two planes carrying dozens of Russians escaping Syria's civil war left Beirut airport on Tuesday, the Russian Emergencies Ministry said, an operation that Moscow denied was the start of a mass exodus. (Mikhail Voskresensky/Reuters)

The first Russian citizens evacuated from Syria arrived in Moscow overnight.

The evacuation of 77 Russians was the first organized by Russia since the start of the Syrian conflict nearly two years ago, and it may be the beginning of what could become a difficult and dangerous operation to rescue tens of thousands of Russians living in Syria as rebels gain momentum in their fight to oust President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The Russians, mainly women married to Syrians and their children, were taken by bus to Beirut, Lebanon, and then flown to Moscow. The first of two planes landed shortly after 5 a.m. on Wednesday.

Rushana Vidova, who left the country with her Syrian husband Ali, said she is grateful to "Russia and all who helped us."

Russia's Emergencies Ministry, which sent the planes, said the passengers were being given medical examinations before leaving the airport. It was unclear if any of them had been hurt in the fighting, but an AP correspondent at the scene did not see anyone visibly wounded.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the overnight evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria "speaks to the continued deterioration of the security situation, and the violence that Assad is leading against his own people."