AK: Around 20 Estonian citizens may be currently stuck in Belarus
At least one Estonian citizen is currently trapped in Belarus following the closure of that country's airspace by Estonian authorities and those of other European Union member states earlier in the week, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Friday evening. Another Estonian citizen has reportedly obtained an exit visa and was on their way home by bus, at the time of the report.
The Estonian consulate in Minsk says it has communicated with around 20 citizens of Estonia who say they are in a similar predicament.
Speaking to AK via video link, Jegor Sevastjanov, an Estonian citizen who had traveled to Minsk for medical treatment nearly a fortnight ago, said that he now cannot get back to Estonia by plane.
Sevastjanov told AK that he: "Could get to Minsk by plane without a visa (prior to the flight ban – ed.), but you then also have to return by plane. However, at the moment you can't get a flight, since there are none."
As a landlocked country, the only other way out of Belarus – which borders the EU on its western frontier – is overland, which, since the visa issued requires a return flight only, is not feasible either, Sevastjanov said.
Last Sunday's hijacking of a civilian airliner in Belarusian airspace by the authorities of that country, and the plane's forced landing in Minsk, followed by the detention of a Belarusian dissident who was on board, has been met with an international backlash which includes further sanctions – the U.S. has announced it is joining the EU on this – and flight bans to and from Belarus by EU member states, including Estonia.
Of other possible solutions to his problem and that of any other Estonian citizens who may be trapped in Belarus, AK reported that flying to a non-EU nation such as Turkey or Russia might be one, albeit costly, option. Entry into Russia at present is, however, permissible only to citizens or those with residence permits, AK reported.
Another potential option is to apply for an exit visa from a Belarusian migration office, the report said.
Of the latter, Malle Soidla, Estonia's consul in Minsk, told AK that this could be carried out: "Pretty quickly. The first case we are aware of saw the individual apply last night , while tonight he has a bus ticket and is getting out of Belarus."
The exit visa costs around €50, AK said.
Of the around 20 people who had also approached her on the matter, Soidla said that the bulk were older people, aged over 50, and were married couples who had traveled to Belarus multiple in the past.
Jegor Sevastjanov said however, that getting an exit visa was not all that easy, with a huge wait line at the migration department he attended prompting him to postpone his application until Saturday.
Estonia's foreign ministry says that when traveling to states which are not recommended destinations, individuals should register their trip here (link in Estonian), which will make it easier for Estonia's foreign representatives to help where needed.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte