When Russian academic Misha decided in March to flee his country amid rumors of martial law, his options were limited and expensive.
Mishaa, from the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, looks east because of the European Union’s ban on Russian planes, where many former Soviet republics offer visa-free entry to Russians.
“I booked a flight to Armenia because I have a lot of Armenian friends and I’m sure there will be a community here and you don’t need a visa,” Misha told Al Jazeera, who asked to use a pseudonym. “Armenians generally have a positive attitude towards Russians; for example, there is less tension in history compared to Georgia.”
Mishaa paid 40,000 rubles ($599), much higher than usual, for his one-way flight to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, which took less than four hours.
“When I bought the ticket, Russia was still in SWIFT, so I could still use my regular bank card. The price was huge – I paid about 40,000 rubles [$599] One-way travel,” he said. “That’s nonsense, and it’s something I would never do in peacetime. Not everyone can book a flight at that price — not everyone has spare cash or a steady job — so it’s also a question of particular privilege. “
Now working remotely in Yerevan, Mishaa uses cryptocurrency to transfer his salary to Armenia, but for the most part survives on the cash he manages to take before leaving.
International travel for Russians has become expensive, difficult and fragmented since Russia started the war against Ukraine.
Russian plane banned From European and North American airspace, the country’s Boeing and Airbus planes face the threat of being taken back by Western leasing companies if they leave the country.
“Russian airlines were forced to ‘steal’ them by the Russian government,” said Viktor Berta, vice president of aviation finance at ACC Aviation in London.
AerCap, the world’s largest leasing company based in Dublin, Ireland, has filed a $3.5 billion insurance claim for more than 100 aircraft stranded in Russia, which represent about 5 percent of its leased aircraft by value.
Domhnal Slattery, chief executive of Dublin-based aircraft leasing company Avolon, said in a quarterly financial statement that his company was able to take back four planes earlier this year and would make every effort to take back another 10 in Russia. At the same time, the company admitted to losing $304 million, writing down the value of 10 planes it may never recover to zero.
Even so, Aeroflot has been slowly returning to international operations in countries where it will accept flights.
According to FlightRadar24, international flights from Russia fell from 1,126 a week at the start of the Ukraine war on February 24 to 181 two weeks later. By the last week of April, international flights recovered to a weekly rate of 379. Of these, 103 were destined for Turkey, with most of the rest going to six former Soviet republics, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
The Russian-built superjet uses Sochi as a hub for regular flights to destinations including Turkey, Egypt and Israel, FlightRadar24 reported.
Most of the 500 or so Western-made planes leased by Aeroflot do not leave the country because they could be repossessed by the Western companies that own them, a Russian aviation expert, who asked not to be named, told Al Jazeera.
However, the expert said Aeroflot owns some Western planes outright and has paid off loans on some others so they can be used outside Russia. Aeroflot could also ground planes to get spare parts to keep other planes flying, he said.
Although Boeing and Airbus no longer supply spare parts for Russian planes, some older models of Airbus A320s and Boeing 737-800s are in international service, according to FlightRadar24. Boeing and Airbus also stopped delivering planes to Russia. Still, Russia’s Aeroflot has managed to keep some Boeing A330s in the air and earlier this month announced the resumption of regular flights to New Delhi, which maintains close ties with Moscow.
Marina, a 25-year-old IT professional from Moscow, has a passion for travel and has managed to fly to Sri Lanka, Greece, Cyprus and the UK since the conflict began, although it has been far from smooth sailing.
Marina, who asked to use a pseudonym, plans to travel to Sri Lanka with her boyfriend on February 25, the day after the Russian invasion.
“At first we didn’t understand, but once we got it, we decided to go anyway, so if things get really bad, we’ll stay there,” she told Al Jazeera.
While in Sri Lanka, Marina and her partner decided to move to Cyprus, which would require them to travel across Moscow.
On the same day Russia was kicked out of the SWIFT international payments system, Marina and her partner booked a flight to Cyprus via Bulgaria and Greece, rendering their cards almost useless. The couple managed to withdraw some of their savings after seeking help from friends at an unapproved bank. Since then, they have been carrying thousands of dollars in cash.
“At the Greek border, they asked in detail where we would be staying and how long we would be staying,” she said.
“In Athens itself, there are no particular problems, other than the impossibility of paying by card and having $10,000 in our pockets in that unreliable neighborhood where we live, it’s not fun.”
Mike Stengel of AeroDynamic Advisory, an aviation management consultancy in Ann Arbor, Mich., said Russia’s aviation industry could eventually become like Iran’s, “which has been able to use some of the back end to maintain a fleet of Western-built aircraft. . Measures to keep them flying”.
“Russia has a commercially successful aerospace industry that still employs hundreds of thousands of people,” Stengel told Al Jazeera.
“It has produced aircraft in the past, so it has the history and infrastructure to design and produce aircraft engines and aircraft components. It will not be perfect, it may lead to some kind of skeleton fleet remaining, but they have many of the tools needed , can keep Western-built aircraft flying for decades.”
For Russians like Misha who oppose the war in Ukraine, the country’s international isolation is both understandable and disturbing.
“Isolation is to be expected. What do they want? Will all European societies respond in moderation? I never believed it,” he said.
“I think sanctions are fair in general, but of course I care about the economic situation of my home country: how my parents will live there, my brothers, my family. Sanctions will of course hit society as a whole, but it’s a kleptocratic regime , an oligarchic mafia state, the poor will suffer more.”