I first sent an email to the Russian embassy in Dublin two months ago. I’ve always wanted to visit Russia, and in January, it seemed like the perfect time to start planning a trip. Obviously, things are a bit different now.
Let me rewind a bit. At Baylor, I majored in Russian language, and during my first semester, I met a classmate named Evan, who would become one of my best college friends. (For privacy purposes, Evan is not his real name.) Evan ended up moving to Russia after we graduated last May, and when I found out I had received the Mitchell Scholarship, he and I began making plans for me to come visit him in St. Petersburg while I was on the other side of the Atlantic. Last semester, one of my classmates at UCD was from St. Petersburg, and during one conversation I had with her, she mentioned that it’s only a 6-hour flight to St. Petersburg if you can find one direct. A perfect opportunity, I thought.
Given that Ireland has historically retained a policy of neutrality as it concerns relations between Russia and the West, it’s relatively easy for Irish citizens to procure an e-visa to visit Russia. For an American citizen like myself, it’s not quite as simple. The process involves acquiring a letter of invitation from someone who lives in Russia (which they submit to their local police authority), submitting fingerprint scans to the Russian government for identity tracking purposes, and sending in your passport to a Russian embassy for up to month or two. Before Russia sent soldiers into Ukraine, I had begun gathering the necessary documentation to get a visa approved, and the email I sent to the Russian embassy was to clarify some questions I had about the process.
Needless to say, I’ve put that process on hold for a while. Both the American and Irish governments are urging citizens to leave Russia. Most travel between Europe and Russia has been suspended. And Evan is no longer in St. Petersburg—he left for Kyrgyzstan last week.
Yet it’s impossible to be too disappointed. One of the few bright spots of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is that it’s generated huge excitement and attention about a Slavic country even older than Russia. An RTE journalist went viral recently for grilling the Russian ambassador in Ireland on his morally bankrupt defence of the invasion. Crowds have repeatedly gathered outside the Russian embassy in Dublin to protest Putin’s aggression. Classmates at UCD have organised rallies on campus to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Ukrainian and Russian students—including my friend from last semester—have come together to challenge the invasion and celebrate the bravery of the Ukrainian people. My church recently welcomed a family who fled from Kharkiv two weeks ago.
Things are different now, yes. But if the blue and yellow lights lighting up Dublin’s city centre are any indication, I don’t have to go to Russia to experience the best of Slavic culture.