Tuesday, December 29, 2020

With Foreign Travel Blocked, Many Russians Feel Trapped ‘in a Prison, Albeit a More Comfortable One’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 27 – Russians who grew up in Soviet times when foreign travel was impossible for most have had a sense of déjà vu with the restrictions on such visits that the pandemic has imposed, while young Russians simply feel cut off and angry because they expect to be able to move about the world at will.

            The Lenta news agency interviewed four Russians about their feelings of loss because of these new travel bans (lenta.ru/articles/2020/12/27/granici/ ).  Olga Babkina, 74, says everyone is unhappy that the borders have been closed but adds that her generation, because of its experience, has been less upset than younger Russians are.

            When borders opened after Soviet times and her income permitted it, she says, she visited more than 30 countries and would like to see more. But with the pandemic, her most immediate concern was whether she would be able to visit her granddaughter who was studying in Canada. Fortunately, the young woman was able to return home on one of the last flights.

            Babkina says that the closing of the borders has driven her to become a regular user of the Internet and especially of Instagram as she seeks to find out new information about various places and maintain ties with people she has met. “In general,” she says, “we have gone into Instagram and now we cannot get out of it.”

            She continues by saying that she is travelling more to various parts of Russia but very much wants the borders to be reopened so she can travel abroad, to Italy, Spain and Portugal in the first instance.

            Tatyana Golubitskaya, an animal trainer for a circus who is 52, has seen most of Russia and therefore has less interest in substituting domestic travel at a time when foreign travel has become difficult or impossible. She says that the restrictions have only made her and others like her want to travel more.

            Golubitskaya does say that the closing of the borders has had one very positive development: It is now possible for her to visit parts of Russia without so many foreigners being present. “I would use this chance” as much as possible, she says. Eventually, the borders will reopen; and it will close as well.

            She argues that the Kremlin has done the right thing by closing the borders and suggests that this has had an impact on her future travel plans. She now wants to go only to friendly countries and in no case to the United States because she has no desire to leave Russian money there.

            Kayli Akulenko, 28, says she has visited 120 countries and that the experience has changed her by making her aware of the diversity of the world. “I do not plan to return to my former way of life” and will travel again as soon as that becomes possible, she says. For the moment, she will travel around Russia.

            And Polina Chekh, 24, says that “sitting at home is fine but only for one month a year.” The rest of the time, she says, she wants to travel. And when that chance is foreclosed, people want it even more because it become a kind of “forbidden fruit.”  Russians like to travel and distances that would put others off have no effect on them.

            While waiting for international borders to reopen, Chekh says, she plans to go to Murmansk to see the northern lights and has been tracking magnetic storms to know when it will be best to go and then to Lake Baikal because seeing it in the winter must be striking. Beyond that, she has no particular plans.

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