Local college graduate recalls trying to leave Russia when the invasion on Ukraine began


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As the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, many citizens of both countries are looking to flee the country any way that they can.

Justin Collins is a former student at the University of Mount Union who was studying abroad in Russia and managed to come back home in the midst of the war.

Collins spoke about his experience getting back on “Live and Local with Jordan Miller” on 1480 WHBC on Monday and he said that Russian citizens didn’t know what was about to happen.

“Leading up to all this, the Russian people had no idea that this was going to happen,” said Collins. “So, when it finally did happen, everything just went a little crazy. I mean, I was perfectly safe, but there was panic. People were lining up at the ATMs when I had to pull out money. I was worried that my bank cards wouldn’t work, so I needed cash. The ATMs actually ran out of money.”

Cooke lived an hour and a half from the border between Ukraine and Russia where he had bought an apartment where jets were flying back and forth seemingly every ten minutes.

Collins said that it started out with a plan of action but it ultimately went south.

“My flight was Monday morning and a news article came out that the Netherlands had added Russia Aeroflot, which is Russian Airlines,” said Collins. “So, my girlfriend helped me get to Msocow and she called Aeroflot and they said ‘Yeah, the flight’s fine. It’s still scheduled. It’s a KLM flight so you should be okay.’ So, I go back to my hotel with about an hour drive, I look on the flight list and my flight to Amsterdam was Cancun.”

“So I’m a little worried but I was like ‘Okay, I’ll go talk to Aeroflot. So, I go to the airport. I wait like an hour and a half and there are just people freaking out. Russians and foreign citizens trying to get to Europe and they keep cutting in front of me. So, I go to a man who is selling flights through the Middle East tried to sell me a flight through Dubai for $3,500 and I really couldn’t afford that. So, I go back to Aeroflot, wait an hour and a half again so a total of three hours in the air flat line. I get to a  lady and I’m like, ‘I’m an American, is there anything you can do to help me? She goes, there are no flights to Europe until at least March 20th. So at that point, I go ‘Is there anything you can do for me?’ She goes ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’

“So, at this point, I’m giving up hope that I’ll have to go back to where I was at and so I saw on Aeroflot’s website and I managed to grab the last seat left to Istanbul, Turkey at 9:20 in the morning. I was like ‘Okay, great.’ So I bought that and that was only worth $800 compared to the $3500. So, then I got that Aeroflot one. Then, I looked up flights from Turkey to Cleveland and Pittsburgh and those were a couple grand each. Then, I looked up one from Turkey to Akron-Canton and it was only worth $900. So, I immediately took that one and this was probably one of the weirdest flight paths I’ve ever seen in my life, Turkey to Qatar, Qatar to Philadelphia and then Philadelphia to Akron-Canton. It was 32 hours of total travel time. I landed in Akron-Canton Airport at 11:00 on Tuesday night.”

Even though Collins is back in America safely, there is one thing that he wants to make sure people know.

““The biggest thing is that the Russian people do not want this. The Russians aren’t our enemies.”