Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to a surge in passenger numbers for a major bus operator which runs lines between St. Petersburg and both Tallinn and Helsinki, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Friday.
Sanctions, the collapse of the Ruble and rumors of martial law being imposed in the Russian Federation as the conflict enters its second week has been followed by larger numbers of Russian citizens fleeing westwards, while the closure of European airspace to Russian flights makes bus travel often the only viable option.
The developments have also been followed by an uptick in the number of non-Russian, and particularly EU, citizens, including Estonians, who had been residing in Russia leaving that country, often twinned with calls from their home countries to do just that.
Rait Remmel, head of international business at Lux Express, a major international bus line which continues to operate its St. Petersburg-Tallinn and St. Petersburg-Helsinki lines, told AK that his company had previously: "Made three or four trips a day, whereas now we are servicing seven to eight trips a day. The number of trips has doubled."
"Primarily, this is the result of high demand to travel out of Russia - both to Estonia and Finland. Whereas we used to have one trip a day from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, now we have two," Remmel added.
The share of passengers who are not Russian citizens has also grown, Remmel added, with German, Spanish, Brazilian, Latvian and Lithuanian citizens all among those leaving the Russian Federation on one-way tickets.
The impact on Estonia's eastern border has also been felt, particularly the crossing at Narva, with a surge in traffic.
A Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) spokesperson told ERR News on Friday that: "The Narva Border Crossing Point works normally, both in the transport of goods and in the movement of persons. Border crossings have become more active in both directions and there may be longer queues at the border than usual."
"Certainly, a large impact is the fact that air service has been interrupted. Several bus companies have set up additional journeys and people also cross the border on foot. The daily movement of people to Russia has also slightly increased; mainly people go to commercial trips in the context of a fall in the Ruble's course," the spokesperson added.
Kätlin Liiva, PPA field manager, told AK that before the conflict broke out, on average 2,500 people crossed Narva border crossing in both directions, but this figure had increased by around 200 per day, since the invasion started on February 24.
Rait Remmel said that border guard personnel on both sides of the Estonia-Russia border were conducting more thorough checks than before, which has made sticking to schedules more difficult.
Kätlin Liiva confirmed that the disruption to air connections meant the composition of those crossing the border had changed, with most non-Russian citizens entering Estonia being citizens of other EU countries, while the share of Russian citizens using Lux Express services had risen from 40 percent to 60 percent, Rait Remmel said.
The share of Estonian passengers had fallen from 38 percent to 15 percent, he added.
This changes took a couple of days to present, he said, following the start of hostilities, with ticket sales starting to significantly from from February 26 after the first wave of sanctions from the west, followed by the collapse of the Ruble.
Remmel added that there had been know repercussions from Russian authorities so far, and that the company will continue to operate its routes to the Estonian and Finnish capitals, for as long as it can do so safely.
Other noticeable changes include larger volumes of passenger luggage than during normal times, Reel said, and the assistance of Russian relatives living aboard in purchasing tickets, given the effect of sanctions on the Russian banking sector.
Local resellers in Russia itself can be used for the sale of rail, bus and plane tickets, Remmel noted, though Lux Express' sales system is almost wholly located within the EU, he said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte