Russian Music Fans Refused Visas To Come To The Uk … And You Thought Free Travel To The West Was Easy These Days… And you thought free travel to the West was easy these days

I met Andrey Fisenko & Anya Vinogradova at a New Order gig in Paris 18 months back. They immediately bonded with me & my friends over our shared love of music. Indeed, we took them to New Orders’ aftershow party where they got to meet the band. When we asked how they had travelled from St. Petersburg to Paris, their trip was much more convoluted than any of the trips we had done to follow our favourite band-

In Andreys words, “We had cheap plane tickets from Airbaltic. We flew to Riga, spend a night in a hostel then in the morning we flew to Paris. On the way back we flew to Stockholm, then to Tallinn, then to St. Petersburg on the bus. Long journey.“ I have many friends who follow bands, but that trip has to be one of the most dedicated.

We have stayed in touch regularly over facebook since then, chatting about music & football, United & Zenit by the way. At one point he asked me “Do you think my friend could book New Order?” in the end this didn’t happen but I put Peter Hook in touch & he subsequently played a gig in St. Petersburg & one in Moscow (Andreys band Superstrings supported in St. Petersburg).

A couple of weeks back Andrey said he & Anya were coming to England (they had originally planned to come to see Johnny Marr earlier in the year but this trip didn’t happen). They planned to stay in with me in Manchester for 3 days then travel to Norwich to stay with Andreys sister, Olga (who is now a British citizen after marrying a British person), for 3 weeks. Whilst here they planned to scatter some Russian soil on the grave of his sadly departed 23 year old niece who died last year from cancer. They also planned to visit a mutual friend of mine, Shug, in Corby, & stay with him for a few days somewhere in the middle of visiting Andreys sister.

They booked their travel, a flight from Tallin to Manchester & a 7 hour bus ride to Tallin going out & Ryanair from Stansted To Tallin, then the same long bus ride to St Petersburg to return. As well as a Manchester to Norwich train.

A few weeks ago they and said they were waiting for a visa, which was arranged through an agent in St. Petersburg. When he said visa it didn’t click with me immediately that it would be issued by our government, & when they were turned down I immediately thought the Russian authorities had turned them down, I was wrong.

They were not successful in their visa applications, citing financial & illegal immigration issues, despite, Andrey supplying details of all previous foreign trips, including the UK in 2008 & trips to Finland, Estonia, Latvia (to see James, the Manchester band), Lithuania, France, Sweden & Italy (“some of the countries we visited several times”). They have between them £1,400 credit on 2 visa cards & 800 euro & £150, which to me, is ample money for a month when staying with friends & family. They also had, in Andreys words, “And invitation from my sister, where she said that we will live at their new house and will not pay for anything.” Anya is an interior designer, self-employed, whilst Andrey is a self employed industrial salesman & musician.

I once asked Andrey over a year back, would he like to visit Manchester? & he said “it was my dream”, as many of his favourite bands were from here, “but he wouldn’t want to live there, because I love St. Petersburg too much.”

We had planned to take in some musical landmarks around the city, visit some bars, catch a couple of gigs & catch an English football match. We settled on my local team, Stalybridge Celtic (who Andrey referred to as Stalin Bridge Celtics!) due to cost & ticket availability. We did fancy the watching the Manchester derby match, but tickets are expensive & scarce, so we planned to watch it in the pub the following day.

I’m writing this in the hope that somehow our Government may reconsider their application.

Incidentally a UK visa application is £85 pounds each for a month, but a Shengen visa (for many EEC countries) is only 35 euro each. Non refundable if you are unsuccessful. Andrey & Anya are £300 out of pocket on the trip; you have to take a chance & book, with visas often arriving at the last minute.

In Andreys’ disappointed words; “But we really won’t stay there. I love my country, which is not very fashionable. Just wanted to see my sister and my friends. It’s a crime they think.”

By Alex Staszko

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