Last EU train from Russia arrives in Helsinki

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Helsinki (AFP) – Just after 7 p.m. on Sunday, the Allegro express train from St. Petersburg entered the Finnish capital, marking the closure of the last rail link between Russia and the EU.

Finnish rail operator VR said on Friday it was suspending the Allegro service, which since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been steadily sold out with Russians eager to get out before Western sanctions made leaving nearly impossible .

“Now that I got my cats back I have no reason to go back, I have everything that matters most to me,” said Alex, who got off the train carrying a carrying case. containing his two long-haired animals. .

The Muscovite who has been living in Helsinki for a few years gave only his first name.

“The situation in Russia has become more complicated,” university student Ivan told AFP, traveling with his mother from Moscow where he is studying to his home in Portugal for the Easter break.

He must return to the Russian capital for his exams in a few weeks.

“I can’t say how I’ll get back to Moscow, we’ll see how this situation resolves,” he said.

Despite the absence of official statistics, thousands of Russians have left their country since the invasion.

With airspace closures immobilizing direct flights to Europe, those wishing to leave Russia have turned to flights via Turkey and Belgrade, or road and rail.

Since the February 24 invasion, about 700 passengers a day have filled trains to Finland, with the service remaining open at the request of the Finnish authorities to allow Finns in Russia to leave the country if they wish.

However, on Thursday the government informed VR that the “operation of the service was no longer appropriate” in light of the heavy sanctions against Russia, and all trains were canceled from Monday.

Partnership symbol

Jointly operated by Finnish and Russian National Railways, the Allegro cross-border train was a symbol of the partnership between the two nations when it opened in 2010.

President Vladimir Putin and his then Finnish counterpart Tarja Halonen traveled on the inaugural service, which cut journey times on the 400 km (250 mile) journey between Helsinki and St Petersburg from two hours to 3.5 hours.

“I hope it will be working normally again very soon,” said Aliya, in her late 50s, who works in Helsinki but regularly visits friends and family in St. Petersburg.

The disruption to service will make life more difficult but “people will still find a way to make the trip if they have the chance,” she said.

Although many Russians would have sought to leave since the start of the war, the Allegro connection with Helsinki was only open to a select few.

Moscow stipulates that passengers must be Russian or Finnish citizens, and a visa is required along with proof of an EU-recognized Covid vaccination – not the dose of Sputnik that is most commonly given in Russia.

Most of the passengers arriving in the Finnish capital are therefore Russians who live, work or study in Europe.