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Safety advice for travelers to Kizhi Island

Travel to Kizhi Island

Kizhi Island in the Republic of Karelia is one of the most popular destinations for the more adventurous traveler in Russia, and for good reason. The 6km-long island is designated as an open-air museum, with many old wooden buildings from other parts of the country moved there for safekeeping. The main attraction on the island, however, is the Kizhi Pogost, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is truly breathtaking.

The Kizhi Pogost consists of two large wooden churches dating back to the 17th century. The Church of the Transfiguration has 22 domes and is 37 meters high, while the nine-dome Church of the Intercession stands 30 meters high. There is also a bell tower. Viewing these adjacent structures as they tower over the wide waters of Lake Onega (one of the largest lakes in Europe) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Is it safe to travel?

The political climate in Russia is complex and unsettled, and US-Russia relations remain strained. Angela Stent, who is a world-renowned expert on Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy and the relationship between Russia and the US, has written extensively on the reasons for this and possible ways forward. For the moment, however, Western travelers should exercise caution and should be aware that there is a heightened risk of terrorism across the country, particularly in the larger urban areas.

US citizens have been subjected to harassment and delays by Russian authorities in cities such as Saint Petersburg, which travelers may have to go through on their way to Kizhi Island. It’s a six to seven-hour train ride from Saint Petersburg to the Republic’s capital of Petrozavodsk, which sits on Lake Onega’s western shore.

Friendly region

The good news, however, is that the Republic of Karelia is generally a friendly region, situated in the north-west of Russia next to the border with Finland. As such, it is nowhere near no-go areas such as the North Caucasus, and is also a safe distance from the Ukrainian border. Although there is a small Karelian separatist movement, it has not been known to participate in violence or terrorism.

Travelers who want to avoid going through Saint Petersburg can fly directly into Petrozavodsk Airport from Moscow. The city can also be reached from Finland by road, and there are buses from Joensuu, the capital of Finnish North Karelia. From Petrozavodsk, Kizhi Island can be reached via hydrofoil in the summer months and by hovercraft, snowmobile or even dog sled in the winter, when the lake is frozen over. The journey takes about an hour. 

In summary then, Kizhi Island itself is a very safe destination in terms of political risk. As it is part of Russia, travelers should exercise due caution and be aware of anti-Western bias and the possibility of terrorist attacks. However the Republic of Karelia is a peaceful area that is not particularly affected by the conflicts plaguing Russia’s southern borders. This quiet, largely rural territory has minded its own business for centuries, and in many ways, life is little changed from the era when the Kizhi Pogost was first created.

Photo Credit: WomEOS





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