Britons face fraught journeys overland and delays to find a way out of Russia | Russia

Britons face fraught journeys overland and delays to find a way out of Russia | Russia

British nationals urged to leave Russia amid the fallout of the war in Ukraine are facing fraught journeys back to the UK, with reports of tense border crossings, visa problems and disruption caused by flight cancellations.

The UK government updated its travel advice yesterday to “strongly advise” those whose presence is “not essential” in Russia to consider leaving now. In a statement on its website, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “If your presence in Russia is not essential, we strongly advise that you consider leaving by remaining commercial routes.”

While some Britons living in Russia told the Observer they were planning to stay despite the latest advice, others want to leave but are struggling. ​One British man, 29, who has lived in Moscow for six years​,​ said he faced a choice between staying in the country or being separated from his Russian wife.

She does not currently have a passport because they married in October and she recently applied for a replacement with her new name. The new document is not due to arrive for another 10 days, meaning she cannot leave or begin applying for a UK visa.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “In the last week, 15 or 20 of my friends have left. Everyone has left; literally everyone.​ ​The embassy would say, ‘You should leave.’ But I can’t. What do I do? Leave my wife here on her own? I can’t do that.”

The education consultant from London, who asked not to give his name, fearing complications, said they felt like “sitting ducks” but were living “hour to hour”. “It’s incredibly tense living here because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of hours or days. Who knows what they’re going to bring in?”

Other Britons have had to go to extreme lengths to leave Russia, including travelling hundreds of miles to cross via land into Estonia and Latvia, or paying thousands of pounds for flights via roundabout routes, passing through the Middle East or Turkey.

Russia has seen severe disruption to air travel with sanctions causing widespread cancellations. Aeroflot, Russia’s flagship air carrier, yesterday announced it was halting all international flights, although airlines serving destinations including Qatar and Dubai were understood to be continuing to operate yesterday. There are no direct flights to the UK.

​Some of those making it to the border ​have reportedly been subjected to tense questioning by border officers, including having phones searched.

“People who are leaving via airports or land, as a result of this new law, they are checking everyone’s Instagrams, Facebook statuses, checking the posts you’ve liked, checking through your Whatsapp, Telegram conversations, everything,” one British national said.

“You have to be careful. It’s a time to be cautious.”

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