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How travel companies take Belarusians via Crimean bridge
The Crimean bridge. Photo: Reuters
The Belarusian operators carrying holiday-makers by coaches to Crimea via the Crimean bridge do not bother informing their customers about the violation of Ukrainian laws and the consecutive problems at the Ukraine's border in the future. Euroradio has called several travel companies in Belarus that sell bus tours to Crimea. None of the firms has alerted this reporter that getting into Crimea via the Crimean bridge from the Russian mainland would breach the laws of Ukraine.
“Currently, there are no other options. Everyone is traveling via the bridge. Previously, people would take a ferry. Now you spare 2-3 hours of your time,” the customer manager at one of the companies says.
The journey to the Crimean shores of the Black and Azov Seas takes nearly 38 hours. Before the opening of the bridge in May, tourists had to rely on the limited number of ferries. Moreover, the ferry service could often be closed due to bad weather thus extending the travel time up to 48 hours.
The Favorit-Travel company told Euroradio their coaches go to Crimea via Russia only.
Euroradio: It means I will not be able to travel to Ukraine in the future?
Euroradio: If one travels to Crimea not via Ukraine, it is the violation of Ukrainian laws.
Favorit-Travel: I have also heard that [the Ukrainians] are not allowing [this] but this is unofficial information, that is there is no legally-binding ban. Only border guards may start getting at you to find an excuse not to let you in. I know people who visited Crimea and later traveled to Ukraine without a problem.
The 19-km Crimean Bridge was unveiled on 15 May 2018 in Kerch by Russian President Vladimir Putin driving a Russian truck. The bridge above the Kerch strait was opened for general public on the next day.
Despite the Russian de facto annexation, Ukraine regards Crimea as its territory and treats the tourists reaching the peninsula via the Crimean bridge as offenders who violated its state border. In the future, they may face problems when entering Ukraine. In the best-case scenario, they may be turned around at the border and get a 5-year entry ban stamp in the passport. This makes it a simple choice: to Crimea via Russia or Ukraine.
As far back as in 2014, Belarusian Foreign Ministry repeatedly informed the citizens of Belarus about the peculiarities of Ukrainian laws in relations to the trips to Crimea. In March 2016, the then head of Belarusian MFA's Press Office Dzmitry Mironchyk said as follows:
"When visiting Crimea via the territory of the Russian Federation, citizens of Belarus should keep in mind that they may be refused entry on the territory of Ukraine and face administrative punishment in line with Ukrainian laws."
However, Belarusian travel companies do not reckon that Belarus citizens need to keep something in mind. The Ecotravel firm tells Euroradio that in fact tourists cannot enter Crimea from the territory of Ukraine but can do without a problem via Russia.
“Your passports do not get stamped. You are not flying in, and there is no land border with Russia. There are no check points from the side of Crimea either,” a customer manager says.
Euroradio: What happens if I post a photo from my vacations in Crimea? I guess the border guards check it somehow when one enters Ukraine?
Ecotravl: As long as you do not write "Crimea is Ours" or something of the kind, everything should be alright.
The next company on the list Original Tour seemed stunned by our question. Apparently, their customers had no similar concerns.
Euroradio: How do you take people to Crimea?
Original Tour: Via Homiel, then through the territory of Russia and via the Crimean bridge.
Euroradio: Won't there be a problem with traveling to Ukraine later?
Original Tour: There are no stamps in the passport. There are only security checks to screen your luggage before entering the bridge. But they do not put stampts that you enter from Russia. Hence, no problem. We sell tours both to Crimea and to the resorts in Ukraine. There were no cases when people could not travel to Ukraine after visiting Crimea.
None of the companies that we had called alerted us that visiting the Crimean peninsula from Russia would be the violation of Ukrainian laws.
Euroradio's reference: Under the laws of Ukraine, citizens of Ukraine who illegally enter the territory of Crimea, are subjected to a fine. Foreigners will receive a ban to enter Ukraine. It is possible to get on the peninsula from mainland Ukraine, but only in some instances. Below are the seven bulletpoints that justify your legal travel to Crimea: 1. You have real estate in Crimea. 2. You need to travel to Crimea to attend a funeral of relatives. 3. Your relatives were buried on the territory of Crimea. 4. Your relatives reside in Crimea. 5. You frequently travel to Crimea on business trips. 6. The goal of your trip to Crimea is diplomacy. 7. You travel to Crimea in order to ensure Ukraine's national interests.