At the same time every day, for the pleasure of tourists, water is released there through an old river bed with cascades, and the view of the wild water is accompanied by the music of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The attraction was particularly popular with Russian tourists, and in 1772 even Empress Catherine the Great visited the place. Since the end of July, however, the visit has turned somewhat sour for the Russians. The city of Imatra plays the Ukrainian national anthem at the beginning of every show, in protest against the Russian invasion, the AFP agency wrote.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer eastern border with Russia, is also one of the countries that plans to limit the issuance of tourist visas to Russian citizens.
“It’s bad news for Russians who love Finland,” said 44-year-old Russian tourist Mark, who arrived at the falls with his family. “But we understand the Finnish government,” he added. He emphasized that there are Russians who do not like war. “Not all Russians support Putin. The government, but also ordinary people, should understand this,” he added.
Also, in the nearby city of Lappeenranta, the Ukrainian national anthem is played every evening at the town hall building, not far from shopping centers popular with Russian tourists. “The goal is to express strong support for Ukraine and to condemn aggression and war,” local mayor Kimmo Jarva told AFP.
Many Russians visit Lappeenranta to buy clothes or cosmetics. Russian license plates can be seen on many passing cars. However, in connection with the war in Ukraine, the inhabitants of Finland are not very enthusiastic about Russian tourists. According to a survey conducted last week by Finnish television Yle, 58 percent of Finns support the restriction of Russian tourist visas.
“In my opinion, they should cut it down very hard. I don’t see any other way to make Russian politicians think,” said one of the local residents, 57-year-old Antero Ahtiainen. Although he has nothing against individual tourists, his relationship with Russians has changed.
In response to the dissatisfaction of the population, Finnish diplomacy presented a plan to limit the issuance of tourist visas to Russians a few days ago. At the same time, the Nordic country remains the only EU member state neighboring Russia that has not yet introduced any restrictions. Since all flights from Russia to the EU have been suspended, Finland remains the only transit country from where many Russians reach Europe.
“Many see this as circumventing the sanctions regime,” said Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. Although the Schengen regime and Finnish law do not allow for a direct ban on visas based on nationality, Finland can limit the number of visas granted for another reason. “For the tourism category, we can limit how many visas can be applied for per day,” Haavisto added. As he added, he believes that the final decision will be taken by the end of August.
Although Finns are now not enthusiastic about Russian visitors, people on both sides of the border have traditionally lived in very close contact. “Many people in St. Petersburg have grandparents from Finland, like my wife,” says Russian tourist Mark, adding that they visit Finland every year.
Russian tourists are also an essential source of income for many Finnish border towns. After Russia lifted travel restrictions related to covid-19 on July 15, the number of Russian tourists heading to Finland continues to grow.
However, their numbers are still well below pre-pandemic levels. In July, 230,000 Russians crossed the border, compared to 125,000 in June. “Of course, if Russian tourists don’t come, businesses will lose their income, which is not good,” says Mayor Kimmo Jarva. However, according to him, there is strong support for limiting the issuance of tourist visas. “We have to choose. But we stand behind Ukraine,” he adds.