MOSCOW (AP) — The first Russian citizens evacuated from Syria have arrived in Moscow.

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 if Bashar Assad’s regime falls.

The Russians, mainly women married to Syrians and their children, were taken by bus to Lebanon and then flown to Moscow. The first of two planes landed shortly after 5 a.m. (0100 GMT) Wednesday.

The 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 injured in the fighting.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.