At Latvia’s border with Russia, the line grows long, and tempers short

by | Sep 4, 2022 | Top Stories

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Cars and trucks line up for hours at Latvia’s Terehova border crossing into Russia on Aug. 3.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

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Rob Schmitz/NPR

TEREHOVA, Latvia — The road carrying a mile-long stream of semi-trucks waiting to enter Russia from Latvia is lined with port-a-potties and dumpsters full of junk-food wrappers and empty caffeinated soda bottles. The wait to get through this border crossing takes around two days. “You should have seen this line two months ago,” recalls Belarusian trucker Dmitri, who sits in the cab of his truck passing the time watching Russian television. “There were more than a thousand trucks and it took at least seven days to cross into Russia.” Dmitri, who doesn’t give his last name for fear of being targeted for his opinions, has been idling here for two days, inching toward the front of the line. The mustachioed man in his 50s says he’s transporting a trailer full of beer from Germany to Moscow, and he says because his country has aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted his work and reputation. “I’ve lost work from this and people treat me worse than before,” he says. “I was in Lithuania a few days ago trying to eat at a Ukrainian restaurant there, and they wouldn’t let me. They kicked me out and told me to get my food from Putin instead.”

Dmitri says he ate at a restaurant across the street, but the incident stuck with him. “The leaders behind this war aren’t suffering from it,” he says. “It’s us, the regular people, who have to suffer.” Latvia, a member of NATO and the European Union, has pushed for a strong global response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The country’s 180-mile border with Russia has become tense as a result. Long lines of trucks at border crossings illustrate the toll economic sanctions against Russia and Belarus have taken, and anxieties among those living along the border are also on the rise.

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Rustam, a truck driver making his way to Uzbekistan, waits at the Latvia-Russia border in Terehova, Latvia, on Aug. 28. He says that each time he has made this crossing, he has waited at this border for an average of four to five days.

Katrina Kepule for NPR

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Katrina Kepule for NPR

Some of those in Latvia are stateless Farther back in line is Anatoly Chibaterevsky, who’s driving 1,000 miles from his home in western Latvia to his brother’s funeral in Volgograd, a city in southwest Russia. The 75-year-old has lived in Latvia most of his life. He doesn’t say what country he was born in, but explains that his family moved here as part of the Soviet occupation of the country shortly after World War II, and returned after being deported to Siberia for a decade’s worth of hard labor in 1949. When Latvia gained independence in 1991, Chibaterevsky was one of tens of thousands of ethnic Russians who were never given Latvian citizenship. He is essentially stateless. He rifles through his suitcase and emerges with his passport, which says “Latvian noncitizen” on its burgundy cover.

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Anatoly Chibaterevsky waits to cross the border from Terehova, Latvia, into Russia to attend his brother’s funeral in Volgograd in southwest Russia, Aug. 3. Chibaterevsky is one of tens of thousands of “Latvian noncitizens” who are essentially stateless. They’re typically ethnic Russians who were moved here by the Soviet Union during the Soviet occupation of Latvia that lasted until 1991.

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