The first group of tourists to visit North Korea since the start of the pandemic left Vladivostok airport in Russia’s Far East Friday, as the isolated country offers tours to Russians who have faced obstacles to travel abroad during the war in Ukraine.
The tour underscores deepening cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang, following a meeting last September between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East.
The Russian tourists will visit the capital Pyongyang and will then go skiing, Inna Mukhina, the general director of the Vostok Intur agency, which is running the tour, told The Associated Press. Vladivostok airport’s online timetable shows an Air Koryo plane took off for Pyongyang at 1.39 p.m. local time Friday.
In October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he would recommend North Korea as a vacation destination for Russian tourists, many of whom now struggle to travel to Europe and the United States because of sanctions applied to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
There are “lots” of people who wanted to come on the tour to North Korea, Mukhina, the tour operator, said, adding that the group contains travelers from places across Russia including Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched in between Poland and Lithuania. The group also includes children who study skiing at a Russian school that aims to create Olympic champions, she said.
The Russians’ reasons for visiting North Korea vary, Mukhina said, suggesting some people are interested in the opportunity to visit a closed country, while others are more interested in skiing and snowboarding.
“We love skiing,” Galina Polevshchikova told the AP at Vladivostok airport shortly before getting on the flight to Pyongyang. “I really want to go there because it’s probably the most closed place where you have the opportunity to do this,” she said.
The group, is not a traditional tourist group, but “a test tour delegation” that could pave the way for other groups of Russian tourists, Mukhina said.
The trip, scheduled for February, was a surprise to Asia observers, who had…