In Finland, Russian tourists received to the sound of the Ukrainian national anthem

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In eastern Finland, the Imatrankoski rapids are a tourist attraction: every day at the same time, the Ukrainian national anthem sounds in front of the many visiting Russian tourists.

In eastern Finland, the Imatrankoski rapids are a must-see attraction: every day at the same time, the Ukrainian national anthem sounds, the almost century-old dam opens and the water rushes in under the gaze of hundreds of visitors including many Russians.

Traditionally, it was the music of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius alone that accompanied the daily event, but since late July it has been preceded by the anthem of Ukraine in protest against the Russian invasion of the country.

In addition to this symbolic measure, Finland, which shares an eastern border of 1,300 kilometers with Russia, is preparing to limit tourist visas issued to Russians, imitating other countries of the European Union. “It’s bad for Russians who love Finland,” said Mark Kosykh, a 44-year-old Russian tourist who came to see the rapids with his family.

“But we understand the government of Finland,” he adds, hastening to point out that not all of his compatriots support the war.

“Not all Russians are for Putin. The government and all people have to understand that,” he says.

Ukrainian anthem at the mall

In the nearby town of Lappeenranta, the Ukrainian national anthem resounds each evening from the top of the town hall, which overlooks the shopping malls popular with Russian tourists.

“The objective is to express strong support for Ukraine and to condemn the war of aggression,” mayor Kimmo Jarva told AFP.

Many Russians travel to Lappeenranta to buy clothes and cosmetics, and Russian license plates are aplenty throughout the town. Since the start of the conflict, the Finns have taken a dim view of these tourists.

58% of Finns are in favor of limiting tourist visas for Russian citizens, according to a poll published last week by public television Yle.

“In my opinion, their number should be restricted very strongly. I see no other way to make Russian politicians think,” said Antero Ahtiainen, 57, a resident of Lappeenranta.

A very popular show.

Upcoming restrictions

Encouraged by growing public discontent, the foreign minister presented a plan to limit tourist visas issued to Russians.

The only neighbor of Russia within the EU not to have put in place restrictions on tourist visas granted to Russian citizens, Finland has become a transit country for Russians eager to travel.

Deprived of air links between their country and Europe, they can go to Finland by car or bus and take the plane there.

“Many saw this as a circumvention of the sanctions regime,” laments the head of Finnish diplomacy Pekka Haavisto.

Since the Schengen system combined with Finnish law does not allow an outright ban on visas based on nationality, Finland can only reduce the number of visas issued based on category, says Haavisto.

“The tourist category may be limited in terms of the number of visas that can be applied for in a day,” he says. According to him, the restrictions could be adopted by the end of August.

strong ties

On both sides of the border, the people of the border region have traditionally lived in close contact.

“In St. Petersburg, many people have Finnish grandparents, like my wife,” says Mr. Kosykh, who visits Finland every year.

Following the lifting of anti-Covid restrictions on July 15, the number of Russian tourists, who are a key source of income for many Finnish border towns, continues to increase in the Nordic country. More than 230,000 border crossings were recorded in July, compared to 125,000 in June. “Of course, if Russian tourists do not come here, there will be a loss of income for companies, it is regrettable”, notes the mayor of Lappeenranta.

However, support for limiting Russian tourist visas is well entrenched, according to Jarva. “We have to make a choice. We firmly support Ukraine,” concludes the city councilor.

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In Finland, Russian tourists received to the sound of the Ukrainian national anthem

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