Russians Tell How Travel Changed After Invading Ukraine


Over the past year, it has become more difficult and more expensive for Russians to travel abroad.

But some say this is just the start of their concerns.

With anti-Russian sentiment rising, several Russian citizens spoke to CNBC Travel about their concerns, how they are treated when traveling, and what goes through their minds when people ask where they are from. .

How traveling has changed for Russians

Julia Azarova, a freelance journalist, said she left Russia a year ago. She said she fled Moscow for Istanbul after Ukraine was invaded, eventually settling in Lithuania.

“I had to leave my own country” or risk imprisonment, she said. “We had to pack our things in one day and leave.”

Since then, Azarova said she had visited Latvia twice, but could not travel to Ukraine, where she had family. His Russian friends met problems entering Polandwhile her colleagues were barred from entering Georgia, the latter likely out of loyalty to Putin, she said.

Anna – who asked that we not use her real name for fear of “unforeseen consequences” – has the opposite problem. She said she is in Moscow and she does not know when she will leave Russia again.

Traveling somewhere abroad seems unimaginable and impossible.

“Normally I would visit one to two countries a year,” she said. But now, “traveling somewhere abroad seems unimaginable and impossible.”

Travel, especially airfare, is very expensive, she said. Moreover, “Russian credit cards are blocked almost everywhere and buying foreign currency in Russia is so difficult.”

As for when she plans to go abroad again: “Probably when the war is over.

Another Russian traveler, Lana, also requested that we not use her full name for fear of reprisals from the Russian authorities. She lives in Asia and planned to return home last summer for the first time since the pandemic began, she said.

But she canceled the trip after Ukraine was invaded, she said, despite her parents having not seen her child in years.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said, adding that the risk of border closures or flight cancellations drove her decision.

What is it like to meet other people

Rather than returning home, Lana traveled across Asia – to places like Thailand and Japan.

It’s “really hard to go abroad and meet new people thinking you’re the person from Russia – and how people will react to that,” Lana said.

She said that when people ask where she’s from, there’s a “moment of anticipation” that didn’t exist when she was young.

“Back then, when you say ‘I’m from Russia’, the first thing people say is vodka, bears, matryoshka [dolls]and all that innocent stuff,” she said. “You feel like yeah, I’m from Russia — that’s cool.”

Lana told CNBC Travel that she came from Russia to elicit comments about ballet, vodka and Matryoshka dolls.

Bo Zaunders | Corbis Documentary | Getty Images

But it’s different now, she said. During her trip, she braced herself for negative feedback. Yet so far none have come, she said. On the contrary, people offered words of sympathy and concern, she said.

Lana may have been lucky. A wave of anger against Russia has covered parts of the world, from Europe to the United States, in incidents that the Russian government has used to stoke nationalism in the country.

“Not everyone understands that government, country and people are not always the same thing,” she said. “Let’s say you just… [the United] United States, I mean, you might not support Trump after all, right? The same thing has been happening in Russia for, probably, 10 years.”

Anna said telling new people she was Russian had “always been tricky, to be honest, even before the war”.

She said there was “prejudice and stigma against Russians”, describing instances in Polish restaurants where waiters refused to serve her after spotting her Russian guide. After that, she started hiding her nationality more, she said.

She said it would be even harder to ask her where she was from when she started traveling abroad again.

“After the war, I suppose, I will be even more afraid of the question, because I will instantly feel the need to start explaining myself, fearing a negative and aggressive reaction.”

Azarova agreed that meeting strangers is difficult, especially as she struggles with her own feelings of “guilt”.

“You understand that you personally haven’t done anything wrong, but you can’t shake off the idea that something is wrong with you personally,” she said.

After the invasion, Russian journalist Julia Azarova fled Moscow with her husband, also a journalist. She said she welcomed people who asked her questions about the war. “I’m honestly very, very happy to say what I think.”

Source: Julia Azarova

Since leaving Russia, Azarova said she has had no confrontations over her nationality. However, like Anna, she said she often felt the need to quickly say how she felt about the war.

She said her conversations with strangers helped her because “you feel like no one is after you.”

Now she’s not afraid to say she’s Russian anymore, she said, not least because there’s nothing she can do about it.

“But I can do something to show the face of the Russians who are not for Putin, who are not for this war… and who tried to do something to stop it.”

She now covers the war for the news channel Khodorkovsky livea YouTube channel backed by exiled Russian businessman and prominent Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

What they wish people knew about Russians

“People are just people,” Lana said, “regardless of nationality, your passport, your citizenship. I’ve lived in a few countries. I’ve traveled a lot. In my experience, most of the time, the stereotypes just don’t stick.”

Anna said she wanted the world to know that not all Russians are “creepy lunatics”. On the contrary, they are friendly, warm, willing to help and eager to be good friends, she said.

“Many of us are trying to change something, but people need to know that it is difficult and very dangerous to do…People need to know that behind scary news about Russia, there are millions of Russians, who are suffering, who are afraid and who are trapped, and who pray for peace every day.”

Azarova said she wants the world to understand that sanctioning the Russian people, as opposed to the government and the ruling elite, will not influence Putin.

Lana said of recent trips to Thailand and Japan: “When you talk to people on a personal level, they don’t see you as a representative of a country…you’re just a human being with your own thoughts and feelings.”

Tomosang | time | Getty Images

This is because their opinions do not affect change, like in a democracy, since “Putin is not an elected leader. This is a very, very important point. He was not elected in fair and free elections,” she said.

Moreover, Putin does not care what happens to the Russians, she said – their difficulties will not change anything.

What will be? “If Putin is forced out,” she said. But “the Russian people have no…weapons”.

The future

Lana said she was afraid of the future.

“I don’t see… a way out of the current situation. I’m afraid that Russia is… stuck,” she said.

Azarova said that although she misses Moscow dearly, she is slowly accepting that she may never live there again.

“No matter all the problems…it’s still a very beautiful city with all my childhood memories,” she said.

But she said her home, as she knew it, “no longer exists”.

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