I’ve wrapped the Brexit reportage project, and have spent this last week travelling around the Netherlands, working on MH17, and more. More on that to come soon. For now…
With the inevitability of Ignatius from Confederacy of Dunces casting up Fortuna, the BBC’s useful idiot Daniel Sandford likes to cast things up which supposedly indicate my ‘connection to Russia’ etc. Back in March, as I was deported from Latvia, Dan was suspicious about my ‘multi-entry visa’ from Russia.
Well, that one has expired now in any case, and, after application I received a new Russian, multi-entry visa, last week. So I’d like to tell you quickly, it’s neither suspicious as Sandford makes out, or like this, as a Twitter wag conjectured:
Getting a tourist visa to visit Russia is simple for anyone. Getting a multi-entry, one-year visa which allows you to work is a more involved process, and without the right know-how, it can even be rather complicated. Last year in London in March of 2015, back from near 7 months in Donbass, I set about making my first application for a multi-entry Russian visa.
Before this, I’d only had tourist visas for Russia, my trips there in 2009, 2011, and 2014, well that was a bit different. July 2014 saw me deported from Ukraine after being captured by Ukrainian forces while covering war at Donestk airport. They detained me for 3 days, then deported me into Poland, for some reason, banning me for 3 years for my work supposedly ‘supporting terrorism’ – i.e. telling the side of the war in Donbass they didn’t want to be told.
RT then immediately called from all sides telling me they wanted to ‘fly me to Moscow‘ etc etc. But that turned out to be false, or they were even just lying to me. All RT wanted to do was keep me onside with them to record an interview about my release, for which they booked a tv studio in Warsaw and made a huge deal of.
Then, after that, despite knowing I was left Poland, car, along with many of my belongings stolen by Ukrainian forces, little money it was ‘goodbye Graham, we won’t be needing you any more.’ They not only withdrew all visa support, they let the Russian embassy in Poland know about this, and they promptly refused to give me any visa at all.
So it was, cut off, hung out to dry in Warsaw, I made the call – got on the next flight to London, got a one-entry tourist visa, in one day, next flight to Moscow, down to Rostov, and crossed over into Lugansk (photo, arriving in an abandoned city, booming with shelling), at that time under blockade, going on to spend the next near 7 months in Donbass, ultimately making an exceptional application to Russia to let me leave via Russia, as clearly Ukraine was no longer an option, I was banned from there, and death threats emanating from there ever-growing.
So it was, I left in March 2015, was back in London looking to get a new multi-entry visa so I could return to work in Donbass, entering through Ukraine clearly now not an option as per the above. In the first place, I didn’t exactly know where to begin, all those who’d so confidently said ‘we’ll help you out‘ suddenly rather slower to reply to messages.
Anyway, I googled, explored all the options, and couldn’t really find a way how a freelance journalist, not contracted to any company, could get a multi-entry, one year visa for Russia. It was rather a strange situation, people from a Russia which appreciated me as the ‘western journalist telling the truth about Donbass‘, or even just not be a Russophobe, as is the standard for most western journalists writing on Russia – Luke Harding, the above Daniel Sandford, and on – kept writing to me expressing gratitude and invitations to Russia.
In this time also, March to April of 2015 in London, Russian media kept calling me, asking me for Skype interviews and so on, which sometimes I did, others not. But, the truth behind it all was that all of March I had no idea how I’d get a Russian visa to even return. Well, in March, April, I started casting the net out. Of course, it wasn’t all visa application, this photo from a day out at one of my favourite places to visit in London, Greenwich.
In April of 2015, I eventually found a contact in Russia, Sergey, who ran a news agency which had used several of my videos in the past. From early Facebook forays, Sergey indicated he may be able to help. And, unlike so many others, followed up on this with a letter, and documentation supporting my application for a Russian multi-entry visa, to work as a freelance, independent journalist.
However, in the first place, my multi-entry one year visa application didn’t quite go through, and I was instead given a three-month, double-entry visa. So, in May of 2015, I embarked on that for a then near-3 month working trip to Donbass, by this time already simply working for myself, via crowdfunding, earnings from YouTube.
In this time, Sergey went to bat for me again, and in July of 2015, I left Donbass to go to Helsinki (pictured) to apply for what would be my first multi-entry Russian visa. Why Finland? Well, it couldn’t be Russia, Helsinki was easy to fly to, and there it was where I waited a few nice, slightly boring if I’m being honest, days while my application went through.
Go through it did, first multi-entry visa for Russia issued, and in August of 2015 I was off to do my Crimea project of that year, then staying working in Donbass, and Russia, until late May of 2016. I was then back in the UK until leaving last week to start work on my MH17 documentary (more on that soon), and, like last time, applied for another multi-entry Russian visa, with Sergey’s support. Still, filled out all the paperwork, as last time, paid the visa fees, as last time, but, a bit easier this time, it all went through ok, and last week I was issued with a multi-entry, one year visa for Russia.
So, what to say about applying for a Russian visa – there’s a process to go through, and it’s not necessarily the easiest, in terms of you do need pretty concrete documentation. However, it’s certainly both do-able, and possible, and the embassy, visa centre have in my experience always been professional. There are various agencies online who say they they can provide this, but, I don’t know about that or them enough to advise. Also of course, if you work for a company, teaching English etc, they’ll sort this out.
Getting a visa, which allows you to work, for a year is a pretty big deal, for any country. I’d advise in the first instance, visiting Russia on a tourist visa, and making enough connections to allow for those whose pledges of assistance will not quite stand up to requests for that to really happen. I could end this with a screenshot of the chap whose firm assurances of assistance subsequently gave way to ‘write to Ramzan Kadyrov on Facebook’.
But, I’ll simply say this, it should never have been necessary for me to get a Russian visa to work in Donbass. If Ukraine were a normal country, I’d still be able to go there to work, travel to Donbass through Ukraine, and would certainly do so. If I were a BBC journalist, be sure the FCO would have stood up for me when deported, rather than pretended they didn’t even know me.
Here’s the truth about Ukraine – any journalist working there is only doing so because they dutifully pump out the Kiev line. And for the rest of us? Well, I’m grateful that Russia, where I’ll also be doing reportage, is a country which allows independent journalism, enables it by giving visas, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to work over there.
Useful links –
Visa policy of Russia –
VFS – Russian Visa Application Centre –
An example of Russian visa support site –