Last train to Helsinki for departing Russians
One of the few remaining routes open from Russia to the European Union is closing down after Finland's railway operator announced the last train from St Petersburg to Helsinki will run on Sunday.
Following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, the twice-daily Allegro express train was regularly packed with Russians and Finns eager to get out before Western sanctions make leaving all-but impossible.
"So far we have continued to run the Allegro service in line with official guidance, in order to secure the passage of Finns to Finland," Topi Simola, senior vice president of Finnish operator VR said in a statement on Friday.
As airspace closures and other sanctions hit, the Allegro -- the last rail link still in operation between Russia and the EU -- saw demand soar.
"In the last weeks people who have wanted to leave Russia have been able to exit the country," Simola said.
However, on Thursday Finland's minister for state-owned enterprises Tytti Tuppurainen informed VR that "operating the service was no longer appropriate" in light of the heavy sanctions against Russia.
The rail operator said the last train from Russia to Finland will operate on Sunday morning.
Most trains have been packed since the February 24 invasion, bringing 700 passengers a day to Finland, but over the last fortnight traveller numbers have decreased to 60 percent of capacity, a VR spokesman told AFP.
Although many Russians have reportedly sought to leave, the Allegro link to Helsinki has only been open to a select few.
Moscow stipulates that passengers must be Russian or Finnish citizens. A visa is required as well as proof of an EU-recognised Covid vaccination, and 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.
On Friday an exhibition of shocking images from the war in Ukraine opened at a train station in Lithuania, with the aim of giving Russian transit travellers a true picture of the conflict.
The Baltic state allows 100 trains a month to transit to and from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, although Russian passengers are not allowed to disembark in Lithuania.