La Gaceta De Mexico - Last EU train out of Russia arrives in Helsinki

Last EU train out of Russia arrives in Helsinki
Last EU train out of Russia arrives in Helsinki

Last EU train out of Russia arrives in Helsinki

Just after 7pm on Sunday, the Allegro express train from St Petersburg pulled into the Finnish capital, marking the closure of the last rail link between Russia and the EU.

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Finnish railway operator VR announced on Friday that it was suspending the Allegro service, which since Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been regularly sold-out with Russians eager to get out before Western sanctions make leaving all but impossible.

"Now that I've picked up my cats I don't have a reason to go back, I have everything that's most valuable to me," said Alex, who got off the train wheeling a carry case containing his two long-haired pets.

The Muscovite who has lived for some years in Helsinki gave only his first name.

"The situation in Russia has become more complicated," university student Ivan told AFP, travelling with his mother from Moscow where he studies back to his home in Portugal for the Easter holidays.

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

"I can't tell how I'm going to get back to Moscow, we'll see how this situation gets resolved," he said.

Despite a lack of official statistics, thousands of Russians are reported to have left their country since the invasion.

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

Since the February 24 invasion, around 700 passengers a day have packed the trains to Finland, with the service remaining open at the request of the Finnish authorities to allow Finns in Russia to exit the country if they wanted.

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

- Symbol of partnership -

Run jointly by Finland and Russia's national railways, the cross-border Allegro train was a symbol of partnership between the two nations when it opened in 2010.

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

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

The interruption of the service will make life more difficult but "people will find a way to make the journey anyway if they have the opportunity", she said.

Although many Russians have reportedly sought to leave since the start of the war, the Allegro link to Helsinki has only been open to a select few.

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

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