(CNN) – Russian cosmonaut Mark Vandy He said on Tuesday that the three Russian cosmonauts who boarded the International Space Station (ISS) last month, wearing spacesuits reflecting the colors of the Ukrainian flag, were praising their university and not objecting to the Russian invasion.
The yellow and blue spacesuits surprised many observers, who assumed that the Russians were showing support for Ukraine. However, the three cosmonauts are all graduates of Moscow’s Bauman State Technical University, whose logo is yellow and blue.
Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov were surprised by the controversy over their spacesuits, Vande He said.
“The three were affiliated with the same university and I think they were a little surprised by that,” he told a news conference.
Vande Hei said he wasn’t afraid to talk about the war with fellow ISS crew members.
“The discussions weren’t very long, but I asked them how they felt and sometimes I would ask direct questions, but our focus was on our mission together.”
Vande Hei landed in Kazakhstan aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft on March 30 after spending 355 days in space. He returned from the space station with cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.
His return from the International Space Station was highly anticipated and drew unprecedented attention due to the heightened geopolitical tensions fueled by the head of the Russian Space Agency, Dmitry Rogozin, who made several social media posts directed at the United States.
This included Rogozin Retweet partly animated video that appeared to threaten Russian cosmonauts to abandon Vandee Hee in space. Rogozin was also involved in a Twitter feud with retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who held the record for the longest time an American astronaut was in space until it was surpassed by Vandey He.
Vande Hei said he learned of the tweets from his wife. “I didn’t perceive those tweets as something to be taken seriously,” he said, adding that he considered them directed at a “different audience” besides him.
He said, “I just didn’t spend a lot of emotional energy caring for her. I heard about her. I laughed and reached out.”
On Saturday, Rogozin suggested in a series of tweets that Russia might end its cooperation with the ISS due to international sanctions against Moscow, saying that Russia would prepare “concrete proposals to our country’s leaders” on the possibility of ending the ISS. Collaboration on the ISS with the space agencies of the United States, Canada, the European Union and Japan.
“The professional relationship between our international partners and astronauts and astronauts continues for the safety and mission of everyone aboard the International Space Station,” NASA said.
Other parts of Russia’s space program have been affected by the war in Ukraine. The ExoMars Rover planetary spacecraft project, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, had to be postponed.
Russian crewmates are and will always be ‘dear friends’
Vande Hei refused to reveal how the Russians on board felt about the invasion of Ukraine. “These are the things I’d rather you share directly than how you feel about it,” he said.
He said the invasion itself was “heartbreaking, very sad” and he felt “powerless” to recognize it while in space. Vande Hei said that did not change his feelings for his fellow Russians.
“They were, are and will always be dear friends of mine. We support each other through everything. I had no qualms about being able to continue working with them.”
Landing after his unprecedented mission, Vande Hei said he was able to walk after about eight hours, though he said he was wobbly.
He said he was also happy to sip some guacamole for the first time in a year and was surprised at how much it feels to be back on Earth after spending so much time in space.
“It’s a little disappointing how normal it is.”
CNN’s Rachel Crane and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.