Safety in Russia

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Precautionary measures that ensure a safe stay in Russian territory are not much different from those generally accepted in most countries.

Prudence and caution are the main ways to avoid trouble. But it is worthwhile to examine some of aspects in greater detail.

Hotel

Even if you have high confidence in the integrity of your hotel’s staff, you should not leave documents, money, expensive jewelry, phones, or cameras in plain sight and easily accessed. It’s not that every single hotel employee is waiting to snatch your belongings, but all people are different and it is not worthwhile to rely on the proverbial Russian avos’ (happy-go-lucky attitude) just because you're staying in Russia. Believe us, it is not the most reliable guarantee.

Transport

Public transport in large cities seems to be better than one could hope. The fare is inexpensive, and you can reach any corner of the city.

However, Russia is still rich in pickpockets, so never put your money, documents or important things into your hip or chest pocket. A lady’s handbag or a backpack on your back are no place for your passport nor your wallet. Inside pockets of your apparel (for example, a coat) are best suited for such items. If this is not possible, like in hot weather, or your garments have no inside pockets, hold your handbag or a backpack in front of you with your hand on it at all times.

Never stand in front of the doors of a train while holding your cellphone or a tablet. It can be snatched from you just before the doors close, leaving you with no chance of catching the thief.

Don’t stand close to the edge of the platform, regardless of whether it is a train in the metro, a monorail, or a commuter train that you are waiting for at the station. Even if you are eager to have a sharper photo of a bas-relief or you are tired of waiting for the train and decide to peer into the tunnel for incoming lights, neither a sharp photo, nor the lights in the distance are worth the injuries that can be caused by the train or accidental contact with a high-voltage rail. There are always plenty of passengers at metro stations, and you can accidentally be pushed off onto the rails.

You should cross tramways from the front, and trolleybuses from behind. If you follow this simple rule, you will boost the chance of avoiding trouble significantly.  Remember that drivers on Russian roads are not very disciplined and will not always give way to pedestrians. Other cases of traffic violations are frequent.

Another problem is the almost total lack of the public transportation systems’ adaptation to persons with special needs. While it is possible to get on some buses, trolleys and trams with a wheelchair (if you get in trouble, people will certainly rush to help), the metro is practically an unassailable fortress. New stations are equipped with wheel-chair lifts, but all improvements end there. In older stations even wheeling oneself to the doors is not a task for the faint-hearted. Let alone the way down to the platform. Most transition areas between the lines are narrow stairs or escalators. Unfortunately, this problem still needs to be solved.

Don’t leave your belongings unattended in any kind of public transport. It is not worth doing so in a taxi either. Use taxi services and do not rely on private drivers. However, official cab drivers often do not know their way around, or they do not speak Russian. An English or other foreign language speaking driver is a real rarity.

Street

Never go out for a walk without your documents. You should carry with you at all times:

  • identification document (foreign citizen’s passport/foreign passport)

  • admission form (with an entry stamp sealed upon crossing a border control);

  • entry visa.

There is a negligible chance of a policeman checking your papers, but it exists.


Do not wander around in a state of alcoholic intoxication. You want to go out drinking? Your options are: your hotel’s restaurant, your hotel room or a place where you’ve got somebody to get you to your place or give you a lift. Let a Taxi help you!

Another rule stems from the previous one: never have drinks with people you hardly know or you don’t know at all. You may not like the consequences.

Remember that drinking alcohol in public places is forbidden. Public places are: back yards, entrance halls, staircases, apartment block elevators, playgrounds, urban forests, gardens, parks, public gardens, beaches, and stadiums.

Drinking alcohol in public transport is also prohibited. If in a park or a backyard you can wrap up your bottle in a little grocery bag or a piece of paper, which together with your politeness will quite possibly win you a policeman’s mercy. Do not, however, have the same reliance on the grocery bag in public transport.

Bears with balalaikas are prohibited from drinking vodka in parks, and are not allowed into pubs either. This is why they are so sad:-)

Smoking in public places, restaurants, pubs, and cafes is prohibited. But you can still puff away on your cigarette at the entrance.

In Russia there is an unhealthy tendency to cross the street at a red light if one doesn’t see cars or they are far away. Explaining that “I ran, when everybody ran,” is not a suitable reason to avoid traffic infringements and will not help you in case of an accident. Cross the road only with a green light, once you have looked both ways. Don’t follow the herd instinct.

Don’t show expensive phones and don’t wonder around with an expensive camera in your hand. It’s better to unzip your camera case or pocket ten times than part with your devices or vacations photos.

Don’t leave you phone on the table of a café if you need to go to a restroom. Take it with you.

If you are invited to play some type of lottery with guaranteed prizes or any other game of chance, you should refuse. There are no more ingenious people than crooks.

Try not to walk around alone on deserted poorly lit streets and bystreets.

If you suddenly find yourself in such situation anyways, try to find more lively (broader, better lit) street, and if you notice that you are being followed you should cross the street (the person is probably going about his/her business) and, if he/she doesn’t tail off, try to move faster towards busier places.

While getting away from the chaser, you can try to call the police. Unfortunately, you risk cutting the call before operator answers if your call does not make the persistent chaser run away. That is why if you come across an open store, even a small one (in Russia many stores work till late, there are 24-hour stores), it is advisable to call law enforcement from there. Most stores are equipped with cameras and have door supervisors.

If you encounter an aggressive person or group of people, and you find neither a store nor law enforcement officers, remember, that good health comes above wealth. Sometimes the only way out is fleeing.

Of course, not every bystreet or quiet street is dangerous. Moreover, the above mentioned situation is the worst possible outcome, and you are not likely to face any similar situation while in Russia, but it is always better to prevent a possible problem.

Just a small reminder: graffiti on the walls and building facades is not evidence of a dangerous district. Street-art as an art form is on the rise and is supported by authorities.

Money

It is better to withdraw cash from your card in bank branches. Try not to use street ATMs.  It is better to do currency exchange in banks’ branches as well, rather than in small exchange offices. You are only allowed to use Rubles, the national Russian currency, as payment currency. Take care of the currency exchange beforehand, since making payments with other currencies is prohibited. 

When entering your PIN, make sure people behind you don’t see it.

Don’t carry large amounts of cash. Pay cash to a cashier or in restaurants; don’t show all your banknotes.


If you nevertheless get into trouble:

The single emergency number (from cell phones) – 112 (toll free number).

Emergency help (emergency call from cell phones, toll free numbers):


101* - firefighters and rescuers

102* - police

103* - ambulance

 

Toll free emergency calls can be made from any phone booth.


For successful communication with the emergency services centers you may need a minimumal set of appropriate Russian phrases (which can be found in any phrase-book and memorized before the trip). In the central part of the city there are plenty of Tourist Police officers. You can recognize them by the insignia on the sleeves with an inscription in English. They all speak English and are always ready to assist you.


If the problem relates to health, and the case is not an emergency, first contact your insurance company.

When going on a trip, do not disregard insurance!

Be careful not to let trouble spoil your holiday. Have a nice vacation!


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