Chura returns to St. Petersburg after her father's passing amid Ukraine Crisis

Counseling Assistant and Russian Teacher Marina Chura stepped off a bus and into a quiet station in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia to meet her brother and her cousin late at night on Thursday, April 7. After hours of flights and a long bus ride that crossed the Russian border, she was exhausted, but relieved to finally be with her family.

Andrei Chura ’21 with his maternal grandparents. Photo: Courtesy of Marina Chura

Her father had passed away at age 80 two days earlier, on Tuesday, April 5. Two months before that, he had been hospitalized for pneumonia, which was caused by Covid-19. 

“Over the course of these couple of months, (the infection) went up back and forth,” said Chura. “He seemed to be doing better and being stable, and then taking it for the worst again. Even then I started thinking, ‘what do I do if the worst happens?’ I had already started brainstorming it and mentioning it to my brother, and at first my brother said, ‘No, don't even think about coming here.’”

While Chura considered returning to Russia to help her family, on Thursday, Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, making a trip home far more complicated than before, mainly as a result of the travel ban. Still, Chura quickly figured out that, should she decide to go, it would be possible to reenter the country with her dual citizenship.

“I knew that I would have to go there either if he passed or if he really needed help,” said Chura. “But he was in the hospital, and I wouldn't really be able to do anything there because the hospital still had Covid regulations. So I wouldn’t even have been able to visit him there.”

As her father’s condition persisted, Chura thought more seriously about going to Russia, and by the time he passed away, she had a plan in place. She knew there would be three solid options for reentering the country: flying to Finland and riding a bus to Russia; flying to Estonia and riding a bus to Russia; or flying to Turkey and then taking a connecting flight into Russia. Because all of the travel times would be nearly the same, she went with the most direct route and flew to Helsinki, Finland then took a bus to St. Petersburg.

“I knew I wasn't breaking any laws. I was a little apprehensive about the whole atmosphere, the whole situation, but I wasn't that concerned about not being able to get through the border and border control,” said Chura.

She flew three connecting flights from St. Louis to Newark, NJ, then to Copenhagen, Denmark, then to Helsinki. Although time-consuming, traveling to and from Russia ended up being relatively simple. Once she was there, she attended her father’s funeral and spent time with family and friends.

“According to Russian Orthodox tradition, funerals are supposed to take place on the third day after the person dies,” said Chura. “The day of the death is day one, so technically, according to tradition, he was supposed to be buried on Thursday. I didn't get there until Thursday night, so we didn't have his funeral service until Friday.”

At the funeral service at the local chapel, Chura gathered with family members and friends to mourn the loss. Her father was cremated, so there wasn’t a burial; her family instead gathered at her mother’s apartment after the service to catch up with one another.

Chura with her college friends during her trip to Russia. Photo: Courtesy of Marina Chura

Aside from talking about memories of her father, Chura found a lot of her conversations turning toward the issue at the forefront of many Russians’ minds: the war in Ukraine.

“It's not something that people are afraid to talk about,” said Chura. “I got a whole range of opinions. The only thing that was common is that nobody wants a war, nobody wants people dying. But as far as what is the cause of this war, that's where opinions varied quite greatly.”

Chura witnessed firsthand the effects of Russian propaganda. While some of her friends were more informed on the truth of the Russian invasions, many bought into the government’s narrative that the Russian campaign was about denazifying Ukraine.

While she had a lot of conversations about Russia and Ukraine, Chura did not see much visible evidence of militarization. She did mention, however, that on the bus ride across the border between Finland and Russia, three passengers got off and did not get back on: two British citizens and a Russian woman. It appeared as though the Russian border patrol would not let them in the country.

Chura returned to the United States on April 12-13; it took her about two days to travel because she spent the night in Helsinki.

“Everybody (at SLUH) told me to take as much time as I needed,” said Chura. “There have been a lot of prayers and emails. I've been getting cards, flowers. So I have felt tremendous support from colleagues, the administration, and really the whole SLUH community.”

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