Once in while it’s good to round up any survival tips from various sources and throw them back into the pot. Some circumstances may change while others remain the same; either way it’s best to check in with those who have their feet on the ground (or at least an ear to it) before departure. This will usually be the folks who are administering your trip – it’s in their interests to get you there and back alive after all. In the meantime let’s shoot the breeze with various tips, fished from all and sundry.
“All and sundry” may even include the government, or even a government, so we’ll start there with some especially pertinent news. At the time of writing, there are some foreign travel recommendations from the UK government relating to the situation in the Ukraine, but it’s important to look at these in perspective. You’ll almost certainly be aware of the ongoing violence and instability in Eastern Ukraine, particularly the Donetsk region. Are you also aware that Donetsk is 1000 Km from Moscow? That’s slightly more than the UK’s oft-quoted Land’s End to John ‘O Groats measurement, as the crow flies.
There are specific recommendations against travel through border areas and crucially within 10 km of the borders for Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts. The word “Oblast” can be translated as ‘administrative region’, ‘zone’ or ‘province’. It’s worth noting that there are also sub-divisions within an Oblast, each known as a Raion, to further add to the confusion. So, the advice is to stay away from the entire Donetsk/Lugansk regions, not just the cities themselves. The Kharkiv Oblast is also highlighted as a region of concern due to violent incidents reported within.
The UK government appropriately urges travellers to be “vigilant” in all Russian regions that border Ukraine. The Trans-Siberian railway (obviously) doesn’t go anywhere near Ukrainian borders. The same can be said for the North Caucasus; a region still considered to be unstable.
You will have heard about ongoing violent confrontations in (or related to) Chechnya. The capital, Grozny, is roughly another 1000 km south east of Donetsk – and therefore 1800 km (approx) south of Moscow. In essence, governmental advice boils down to the very simple: ‘stay the hell away’, even for regions north of the troubled area. If the Trans-Siberian Railway is your thing then you would be going nowhere near these troubled areas, in any case.
Of a more general nature – and being directly relevant to travellers (you) throughout Russia – is the recommendation to avoid all rallies and public demonstrations. No point in getting embroiled in a potential riot over someone else’s argument. It’s fair to say that those protesting in relation to both the Caucasus and Ukraine conflicts can be pretty hardcore, as are the ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi contingent, anti-gay groups, Cossack militia et al. Some of the individual agendas overlap for a truly volatile mix. Into which you blithely wander with your expensive camera and Russian phrasebook.
That’s without mentioning the various Russian security forces of course, tasked with dealing with all of the above – although gay/free-speech/revisionist protesters may highlight a certain ‘selectivity’ in the execution of their official duties. At any rate these uniformed tanks have ‘dubious’ reputations, are copiously armed, decidedly hands-on and certainly “don’t mess about” when dealing with trouble. Fancy being ground-up in a mix between all of these particular rocks? Stay away.
The very real threat of terrorism is of serious concern to us all. As recent events have taught us, the terrorist reach is extensive, potent and ongoing. Although the actual conflicts in Ukraine and Chechnya are hundreds of miles off the tourist trail, there have been bombings and other assaults in various Russian cities including Moscow. For tourists – or potential travellers – there is no water-tight advice that anyone can give. It’s reasonable to say: be vigilant, both of the situation you are physically in and of the relevant situation nationally and globally. It’s also reasonable to assume that main-street Moscow is more of a prestige target than small-town Siberia, but there are no guarantees where opportunists and easy-targets are concerned.
We all have to individually decide whether the current world-strife is a reason not to go, or a reason to get smart and travel sensibly.