Why I fled Russia: Norfolk teacher in his own words

Ted Jennings captured numerous photos of anti-war graffiti in Russia before returning to the UK 

Ted Jennings captured numerous photos of anti-war graffiti in Russia before returning to the UK - Credit: TED JENNINGS

Ted Jennings, 22, a teacher from Acle, has described in his own words his dramatic escape from his home in Kazan, Russia, after local friends urged him to flee while he still could.

Sitting at Saint Petersburg Bus Station, the situation we found ourselves in still hadn’t fully sunk in. An eclectic mix of people and nationalities had poured in as the station opened its doors: families, students, tourists, or in our case, people working in Russia. Wherever in the world they came from, the destinations they were hoping to get to were largely the same. 

Teacher Ted Jennings, 22, was forced to abandon his job and home in Russia

Teacher Ted Jennings, 22, was forced to abandon his job and home in Russia - Credit: TED JENNINGS

This came just eight days after Russia had begun its full-scale invasion of Ukraine - sparking fury and economic sanctions from all over the world. For the first few days, the atmosphere remained largely unchanged, despite an increased police presence in the centre of Kazan.

Whilst protests in Saint Petersburg and Moscow attracted thousands, those found in Kazan were a much more low-key affair. Any anti-war gatherings were swiftly dispersed by the authorities. That being said, it wasn’t until the early hours of Monday morning that the situation began to look more worrisome.  

The sign reads: "Cut off war"

A sign in Saint Petersburg reads: "Cut off war" - Credit: TED JENNINGS

Looking through the now-blocked BBC News website, I saw that both the American and French governments were advising all citizens to return home immediately. Assuming that the British government would swiftly follow suit, I scrambled to my laptop and spent the next couple of hours trying to find the quickest route out of the country.

With airspace bans to virtually every European country, a land route to Helsinki via St Petersburg looked to be the best option. Having booked two tickets on the next available coach, we at least now had a route out of the country. 

The next two days were spent bidding farewell to friends, before flying to Saint Petersburg on Wednesday evening. There we had arranged to stay with a friend until Friday. In Saint Petersburg there was a palpable sense of rebellion just from walking around the city.

On almost every street, anti-war graffiti and stickers could be found on walls, lampposts and street signs. This was a far cry from Kazan, where such blatant acts of dissent towards the establishment were few and far between. 

A heartbreaking reality stuck to a wall in Russia: "In war, everybody loses"

A heartbreaking reality stuck to a wall in Saint Petersburg, Russia: "In war, everybody loses" - Credit: TED JENNINGS

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And then, at 6:30am on a typically cold and windy Petersburg morning, began the seven and a half hour coach journey to Helsinki.

The first couple of hours flew by, aided by the beauty of the Northern Russian countryside, until it was time to cross the border. We had to leave the coach on two occasions to go through passport control: once on the Russian side, and once on the Finnish.   

The second half of the coach ride passed without event, and we arrived in Helsinki on time. The most evident thing to me was how much more easygoing it felt in Finland. I then realised that I am always subconsciously more cautious when in Russia, due to the police presence and generally less liberal political system.  

Ted Jennings and his flatmate during an eight-hour wait in Helsinki

Ted Jennings and his flatmate during an eight-hour wait in Helsinki - Credit: TED JENNINGS

We headed to the airport via the (predictably efficient) transit system from the city centre. It was at this point that the biggest hitch of the journey presented itself, in the form of a two-hour delay courtesy of Ryanair. We got home in the end, landing at Stansted at around midnight. 

Now, having a chance to reflect on the events of the last few days, of course I feel a sense of relief at having been able to leave whilst it’s still (relatively) easily done.

With rumours of declarations of martial law and border closures to follow, it still feels like we made the right decision. That being said, I can’t help feeling worried for the future. 

Graffiti in Russia reads "we support peace"

Graffiti in Saint Petersburg reads "we support peace" - Credit: TED JENNINGS

Of course, primarily for the future of the people of Ukraine, who are suffering unimaginably at the hands of Putin’s reprehensible invasion. But also for the ordinary people of Russia, who have been dragged into this against their will. 

Having arrived home at such short-notice and with no real plan, I have put myself forward to work as a volunteer translator and English teacher for prospective refugees leaving Ukraine and heading to English-speaking countries. 

Read more from Ted Jennings vodkavar.blogspot.com