Ukraine, Russia and Nato - for the media

If you are interested to get information about Lappeenranta or would like to take an interview with the city representatives, kindly turn to Ms. Päivi Pietiläinen, Head of International Affairs in the City of Lappeenranta at: paivi.pietilainen(at)lappeenranta.fi, or +358 40 770 2797.

Frequently asked questions by media with answers from the City of Lappeenranta

Lappeenranta is closer to St. Petersburg than to Helsinki, have the trade and relations with Russia changed after February 24th, 2022?

It was the tourism sector that was affected the most, but this happened already in 2020. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 1,8 million Russian tourists visited Lappeenranta every year. The Covid-19 stopped the tourism almost totally in 2020. Russians were mainly daytime visitors, buying goods which were under Russian counter sanctions (dairy products, fish, meat) or people who visited their summer cottages.

Fortunately, our region is not depending on tourism only. Measured by turnover, manufacturing is the biggest industry (51 %) in South Karelia. In terms of production capacity, Southeast Finland is home to both Europe’s largest and the world’s second largest forest industry cluster. South Karelia’s process industry employs 2,500 people. 

In 2022 Germany and Sweden were the most important export countries inside the EEA. China, Saudi Arabia and Türkiye were the biggest export countries outside the EEA. Finnish export to Russia has declined since 2014. As of end-September 2022, Russia only accounted for 1 % of Finland’s goods exports and 3 % of Finland’s goods imports. Russia’s share in Finland’s goods trade was last this low in the 1940s.

Lappeenranta and South Karelia region are seeking for new business opportunities. LUT university is Finland’s largest university in the energy sector. The city, companies and the university are in close cooperation to find new solutions for clean energy, water and air in technology and business helping the society and businesses in their sustainable renewal. 

As a city we are now concentrating on our tourism marketing to European and domestic customers. We have straight flights from Italy to Lake Saimaa. 

The city of Lappeenranta has suspended all cooperation with Russia. We have sent 40,000 euros in humanitarian aid to Ukraine and want to demonstrate our support for Ukrainians. The Ukrainian flag is raised on the flagpole in front of the city hall. In January we established a twin city relation with a Ukrainian city Chernihiv. Like Lappeenranta, it is also a border town located on the Russian and the Belarussian border.

Were there moments where you were concerned about being so close to the border? If yes, when and why?

We are close, indeed; only 25 kilometers from the Russian border. Of course, Russia’s full-scale invasion of/to Ukraine over a year ago was a shock. Naturally, there are some people that are worried about the situation overall, as a war in Europe is scary. However, we have always lived next to Russia and are used to it. We remember quite well the Crimea occupation and older people also the second world war, but we are not actually terrified right now. We rely on our border and other officials. 

We are mainly worried about the lives and security of the Ukrainian people and that their country stays independent and democratic.  All Finnish people, we included, want to help the Ukrainians – also by welcoming them in Lappeenranta and supporting their efforts to find jobs. We do close cooperation with Finnish migration services and other authorities to assist the Ukrainian refugees.  

What has happened to the traffic on the border?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 1,8 million Russian tourists visited Lappeenranta area every year. 

The number of entries in the South-eastern border has decreased significantly after 2019, first due to Covid-19 and later because of the decision to restrict the entry of Russian citizens.

Border crossings at Nuijamaa and South-eastern border crossing points totally (million):

Nuijamaa border crossing point:
2019: 3,0
2020: 0,7
2021: 0,3
2022: 0,5

South-eastern border crossing points, total:
2019: 7,8
2020: 1,9
2021: 0,7
2022: 1,5

(Source: raja.fi)

We had visa free cruises across the Saimaa Canal from Lappeenranta to Vyborg and back. Journey on board the high-speed train Allegro took only 1,5 hours from Lappeenranta, Vainikkala to St. Petersburg. Now the Saimaa Canal is practically closed, and Allegro is not operating.

Finland is now a NATO member, how is that perceived in Lappeenranta

Opinion polling following the Russian invasion in Ukraine showed an unprecedented increase in support for joining NATO among Finns, with a clear majority in favor. This is the case in Lappeenranta as well. NATO membership is perceived positively as it is enhancing security.

Some analysts believe that the construction of a border barrier is a way to monitor that there are no violations or provocations at the border (for example using illegal immigration), what do you think? Do you think a barrier is a good/useful idea?

The City of Lappeenranta has no role in this issue. The idea of building the barrier fence sounds well-reasoned. The eastern border barrier fence | The Finnish Border Guard (raja.fi) 

In Lappeenranta there is a community of 3,300 Russian speakers, has anything changed in their daily life after February 24th? Have there been episodes of mistrust, provocations, tensions?

Russians and Finnish have always lived together on the border, and it is not so exotic as one may think. There are about 3,300 Russian speaking people living in Lappeenranta and many of us here have Russian neighbors, colleagues, and friends. 

The Russians living here have relatives and friends in Russia or even in Ukraine. Naturally they can be stressed. 

Those (here or in Russia) who don´t support the Putin regime and aggression might feel disappointment and even shame. On the other hand, people under Russian propaganda believe that Russia’s invasion was an act of self-defense against the West. These differences in thinking can break family and other relations.

We have not noticed significant tensions so far, not between Finnish and Russian citizens or between Russians and Ukrainian refugees. Many Russians living in Lappeenranta have shown their willingness to help people who have fled from Ukraine. 

Lappeenranta in an international and permissive/tolerant city. There are over 90 nationalities studying at the LUT university. About 6.000 inhabitants has other than Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue. The city serves all people equally regardless of their background or language.

Does the population of Lappeenranta still remember the war with the Soviet Union? And in what terms? 

The older generation still remembers the war and younger people have heard stories about it. Our Independence Day tradition is to watch “The Unknown Soldier”, a film based on a book, and author’s experiences of a Finnish Army soldier in Infantry Regiment 8 during the Continuation War.

Also, Hero´s Cemeteries across the country remind us about the history. E.g., Lappeenranta Heroes' Cemetery is Finland's second largest with over 1.500 burials: young men who died in wars in 1939-1940 and 1941-1944.