North Korea welcomes group of Russian tourists

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A group of Russian tourists, likely the first foreign travelers from any country to enter North Korea since the pandemic arrive at the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Feb 9. (AP)

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb 10, (AP): A group of Russian tourists arrived in North Korea on Friday, likely the first from any country to enter the isolated state since the pandemic.
The tour underscores deepening cooperation between the two countries 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.
Many Russians now struggle to travel to Europe and the United States because of sanctions applied to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. In October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he would recommend North Korea as a vacation destination.
South Korea’s government said it has no record of North Korean state media reporting on tourists entering the country since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tour group will visit the capital, Pyongyang, and then go skiing, said Inna Mukhina, the general director of the Vostok Intur agency, which is running the tour. Vladivostok airport’s online timetable shows an Air Koryo plane took off for Pyongyang at 1:39 p.m. local time Friday.
The group left from Vladivostok airport in Russia’s Far East. Mukhina said there were “lots” of people who wanted to come on the tour, 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.”
The group is not a traditional tourist group, but “a test tour delegation” that could pave the way for other Russian tourists, Mukhina said.

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