Finnish citizens fleeing the coronavirus in Kosovo by walking across the border

A group of Finnish citizens walked across the border between Kosovo and North Macedonia Saturday morning in order to flee the coronavirus outbreak in the Balkans. – The minivan couldn’t cross the border. The only way to leave was to walk, says Riia Raadla.

Riia Raadla, Finnish teacher working in Pristina, her 16-year old son, a colleague and five tourists from Finland walked across the border to North Macedonia this morning are now waiting in Skopje for their flight back home to Finland, that will take off tomorrow afternoon. Riia Raadla explains the high stress levels she experienced yesterday.

– I was panicking. At first I was thinking we were going to leave on Wednesday, because the tickets are cheap on Wednesday. But then I heard these news saying that at 8 pm yesterday you couldn’t go anywhere and then I thought; Oh my God, I have to go to Finland.” she says.

Riia Raadla explains that she bought the flight tickets yesterday but ended up in panic when people started telling her that they couldn’t ender the Macedonian side. She explains there was some misinformation reaching them at first and that she had to make calls in order to find out if she, her son and colleague were actually going to be able to leave Kosovo.

– My son is 16 years old. He is wondering what the hell is going on. Why are you panicking? What’s wrong with you people? Riia Raadla says.

Measurements taken by the Kosovo Government

Friday evening, a few hours after the report of Kosovo’s two first cases of COVID-19 (both by persons who recently visited Italy) Kosovo’s Government had a press conference where they announced that the country had closed its borders for all non-citizens to enter and that Kosovo citizens who enter through the borders will undergo enhanced medical check-ups with the order that they will be isolated for 14 days.

They also announced that two towns will be put in quarantine and that Pristina Airport will be closed from March 16 00.00.

Also all the restaurants, cafes and shopping malls were ordered to close after the announcement. Around 10 pm all the restaurants and bars were closed and the streets were empty of people. The only shops that remained open were pharmacies and food markets.

However, in spite of the ban, at least two small coffee shops were open during Saturday in Pristina. One with a line outside of people in masks and gloves waiting to buy Macchiatos.   

Riia Raadla explains that Skopje was very quiet and empty during the day and that everything was ordered to close at 6 pm.

The situation at the border

– The security guys at the border were wearing the masks and the white suits. There was only 1 bus and 2 cars waiting at the border.” Riia Raadla says.

The group of Finnish citizens was first waiting at the border unsure of what to do, since the bus driver would be put into self-isolation if he would drive them to Skopje. Finally they get information by the officers.

– They called the Pristina office and they told us to walk across the border. The only way to leave was to walk.” Riia Raadla says.

Crossing into North Macedonia

Riia Raadla and her group starts walking across the border to North Macedonia around 10 am Saturday morning carrying all their belongings with them.

– There was only one other man that was following us. It was so empty. The feeling that we were the only ones that were walking. That was very weird. It felt like we were the only persons in the world, she says.

Riia Raadla explains her biggest fear was that she would be stuck in Kosovo.

– I don’t know where the panic comes from. It’s just a panic that I wanna go home, I really wanna go home, she says

She explains how someone during the morning asked her “Do you feel like it’s a war?” and that she replied “A kind of a war”.

– We are escaping from something. But we don’t exactly know what we are escaping from. A sort of health war. People are escaping and a lot of the locals are going to the mountains and villages, she says.

The group gets lucky when entering North Macedonia. They find a taxi for 20€, even if they were told that the taxi drivers had started charging even local people 100€ for a ride from the border into Skopje.  

Riia Raadla explains that she still had butterflies in her stomach, was twitching her fingers and felt like she would be a smoker she would smoke a whole package while entering the capital.

– Some people were saying “It’s nice. Now you are safe, but no no no. Tomorrow when I get to Finland then I will say I’m lucky again. I really hope I will get home, Riia Raadla says.  

Mirja Lakso

Swedish journalist based in Pristina

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2 thoughts on “Finnish citizens fleeing the coronavirus in Kosovo by walking across the border

  1. Sanna

    Hi! Thank you for “documenting” my relatives’ journey back home. I’ll show this to my neighbours who are from Kosovo.

    Like

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