Frequently asked questions by media with answers from the City of Lappeenranta
1. Are there any significant shifts with regards to your economy considering trading with the neighboring Russia?
Of course, as there is more business related to Russia than in other parts of Finland. The Covid-19 stopped the tourism almost totally in 2020. We are experiencing a loss of 1 million euros per day in the tourism spending in the region by mainly daytime visitors and Russian overnight holidays lost.
Fortunately, South Karelia has managed to attract a lot of domestic visitors as well as tourists from Europe and other parts of the world.
We are concentrating our tourism marketing to European and domestic customers. We have straight flights from Italy to our beautiful Lake Saimaa, which is 4th biggest in Europe.
Finnish export to Russia has declined since 2014. In 2021 the share of exports to Russia was only 5,4 % and 6 % in South Karelia.
LUT university is Finland’s largest university in the energy sector. The city, companies and the university are in close cooperation to find new solutions for clean energy, water and air in technology and business helping society and businesses in their sustainable renewal.
In terms of production capacity, Southeast Finland is also home to both Europe’s largest and the world’s second largest forest industry cluster. South Karelia’s process industry employs 2,500 people.
The number of unemployed jobseekers in Lappeenranta fell by 22 % from March 2021 to March 2022.
2. Are companies in Lappeenranta affected by sanctions?
As noted, the importance of Russia as an exporting country has declined.
Of the total goods imports, the share of imports from Russia was 11, 9 % out of which almost 60 % was fuel and lubricants. Companies and households are affected by higher energy prices. Companies must find new suppliers for those raw materials which were earlier imported from Russia.
Service sector has been affected most already by Covid-19 and the war is not helping their situation.
3. Do you feel people in Lappeenranta are specially concerned about the situation (not only about the war in Ukraine, but the potential effects on Finland)? Is it a recurrent topic in conversations? Are people worried? Scared? Indifferent?
Naturally, there are some people that are worried about the situation overall, as a war in Europe is scary. However, we have always lived next to Russia and are used to it. We remember quite well the Crimea occupation and older people also the second world war, but we are not actually terrified right now. Of course, the war is on our minds and has for example silenced the discussion over covid-19 situation.
4. What do you and inhabitants in Lappeenranta think of the accession to NATO?
After Russia’s attack to Ukraine and Finland’s decision to apply NATO membership, international media has increasingly been interested in our small city due to our location: 25 kilometers from the Russian border.
First, our everyday life has not changed, and we continue living as always – not scared or panicked. The Finnish government and defense forces with other authorities are responsible for security issues and for their communications in this situation.
According to latest polls nearly 80 % of Finns support NATO membership, so do inhabitants of Lappeenranta.
5. Do you know if people are taking special precautions?
Some people have checked the location of the nearest shelters and bought medicines and food for a few days – not because of the panic but because they realized that there can be other disasters that can e.g. stop food delivery or cut the electrification. So, the situation has simply reminded that things happen. 72 h stockpile has been recommended for decades in Finland. Building of shelters is based on legislation also for decades. So, nothing new has happened recently.
6. The Finns share the EU's longest external border with Russia and Russians are the single largest group of foreigners living in Finland. How do you see this in the current situation?
We are mainly worried about lives and security of the Ukrainian people and that their country stays independent and democratic. All Finnish people, we included, want to help the Ukrainians – also by welcoming them in Lappeenranta and supporting their efforts to find jobs. We do close cooperation with Finnish migration services and other authorities to assist the Ukrainian refugees.
Russians and Finnish have always lived together on the border, and it is not so exotic as one may think. There are about 3 300 Russian speaking people living in Lappeenranta and many of us here have Russian neighbors and friends. The Russians living here have relatives and friends in Russia or even in Ukraine. Naturally they are very worried about them.
7. In the past Decades: How was the relationship between Lappeenranta and the cities in Russia and their inhabitants?
People travelled across the border both ways in business and in leisure. Finns went to Russia to buy cheap gasoline or to see ballet or ice hockey games in St. Petersburg. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 1,8 million Russian tourists visited Lappeenranta every year. They came here to their summer cottages or to buy groceries.
We had visa free cruises across the Saimaa Canal from Lappeenranta to Vyborg and back. Journey on board the high-speed train Allegro took only 1,5 hours from Lappeenranta, Vainikkala to St. Petersburg.
The neighbouring city agreement was signed in 1987 between Lappeenranta and Vyborg. It included cooperation between city administrations and cultural and sports exchange. Two cities made cross-border cooperation and in tourism and environmental issues. City administrations had regular meetings. The city of Lappeenranta also had an office in St. Petersburg from 2007.
The COVID-19 pandemic practically closed the border and face-to-face meetings in March 2020. The SPb office is closed and all official cooperation suspended for the time being since 24.2.2022 when Russia attacked Ukraine.