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Russian men in Finland ponder next move

Gleb Yarovoy in Joensuu has opened his home to Russian men fleeing the country since Vladimir Putin's partial mobilisation.

Kun Vladimir kuuli liikekannallepanosta vaimoltaan aamupalalla, he pohtivat mitä tehdä.
Kun Vladimir kuuli liikekannallepanosta vaimoltaan aamupalalla, he pohtivat mitä tehdä.

Thousands of Russian men fled Russia after the Kremlin ordered a partial mobilisation last week. Many of those fleeing are aiming to stay with friends or relatives.

In Joensuu, Yle visited Gleb Yarovoy, who at the time had three Russians staying with him. His children are now sharing their rooms with the new arrivals and the family's living room is outfitted with makeshift sleeping areas.

Vladimir (pictured right) said he will forever be grateful to Gleb Yarovoy and his wife, Anna, for their help. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle

Unlike Ukrainians, there is little structured support for fleeing Russians, most of whom try to stay with acquaintances.

Yarovoy, who's lived in Finland for four years, told Yle that he decided to help anyone he knew who was leaving in response to the draft announcement.

"Last spring we helped Ukrainians who fled to Finland and that experience is helping us now," he said, adding that his phone did not stop beeping in the first days after the mobilisation news.

This week Yarovoy has offered shelter to nearly a dozen Russian men. He said most move on after one or two nights.

"These are friends of mine, former colleagues and students. I don't have a problem offering them a place to stay, but my wife and kids may have a different opinion," he said, laughing.

At times, Yarovoy hasn't had room for everyone interested in staying with him, but said he has called on friends to take people in for the night.

Vladimir makes a bed at Gleb Yarovoy's house. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle

Vladimir*, who is now staying with Yarovoy, said he quickly made the decision to leave when the Kremlin announced partial mobilisation plans.

"At some point you understand that actually the best scenario might be for you to leave the country, home and family. And that's a very hard decision to make. I have never in my life made a harder decision," Vladimir told Yle.

"Finland not ideal"

The Russians who recently arrived in Finland have mostly travelled on, heading to countries like Serbia or Georgia that don't demand visas of Russians.

Finland isn't an attractive destination for many Russians, Yarovoy said, referring to the country's cost of living.

"Russian payment cards don't work in Finland, and it's not easy to access euros in Russia. Even if you have cash, it can be difficult to use it for buying train tickets or reserving accommodations," he explained.

Many hotels are, however, fully booked, particularly in southeastern Finland.

"I tried to book a hostel in Helsinki for my friend. Not only was it full, but a sleeping spot alone cost 35 euros a night, which is a lot," Yarovoy explained.

Vladimir meanwhile said he doesn't plan to stay in Finland because he said he believes getting a work permit here is more difficult than in countries outside the EU.

Working as a freelance translator, he said he hopes to move somewhere he can bring his family.

"Life in Russia will not be easy. That's for sure," Vladimir said.

Yarovoy was on the same page. "The future is hopeless. Putin has led Russia down a dead end. It's painful because I still have relatives and friends there."

*Vladimir's whole name is not featured in this story as he fears official retribution from Russian authorities.

This week's episode of All Points North explores the security considerations following Finland's decision to restrict the entry of Russian tourists. You can listen to the full podcast using the embedded player here, via Yle Areena, on Spotify or via the options found in this article.

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