How to Get Into Russia Without a Visa 101

Tasha Poduska
14 min readOct 23, 2021


Russian Embassy in the USA

This next story shares with you the sheer dumb luck of my life, mixed in with a little naiveness (yes I know it’s not a word, but it should be a word, so I want to force it into existence). Of course, please note that the title of this blog is not a recommendation of any kind and you CANNOT go to Russia without a visa EVER. Unless… this happens to you.

My team and I returned to Fairbanks to finish our semester. When I got home, I looked at my room filled with 20 pairs of jeans, 40 sets of sneakers, thousands of CDs, and I realized that things don’t bring me as much happiness any more. These people I met in Russia were so happy, they shared everything with us, they didn’t have much, but what they had they shared. This may be the point in my life that my gypsy blood was ignited, I wanted to go out and explore. At this moment I became more of a 2 bag type person, for the next 8 years I would live and move around the world with no more than 1 or 2 bags.

I also realized that I wanted to play volleyball a lot longer and get a lot better. I only had this one season left and I would graduate. There weren’t any professional teams in the USA, thus this would be it for my volleyball career. But then my crazy little mind got going and I decided I wanted to play volleyball in Russia. Why not? They liked me, I could do this (one of the naive parts of this story). Since our semester had just started I looked at the classes I had left to graduate and I only need 26, so why couldn’t I take all 26 in one semester? I’d done close to that before just to get eligible, so why couldn’t I do it again. Well, for one thing, I was now at a University, so it’s not that easy and I would need the Dean’s approval. This is the part of the story that if you’d ever met me, you would know how hard it is to say “no” to me, so needless to say, the Dean agreed to my request. I took 26 credits, played volleyball and graduated with honors in one semester.

Now that I had the education part taken care of, I needed to get the Russian part arranged. Sense we had a Russian player on our team now, I asked her if she could assist me in reaching out to the team and making arrangements. I have no idea who she called or what they knew about me coming, they just knew I was showing up on the 22nd of December. So I bought a one way ticket to Russia, (luck part of the story) again, not sure why the ticketing service let me do this, you must buy a round trip ticket, especially to countries that require visas. I only needed a one-way sense I didn’t know when I was coming back, so I bought a one-way, I saved up $700 and I was ready to go play volleyball in Russia. Another example of Tasha’s great planning in life.

That’s it, that’s all I did. Why didn’t I get a visa you ask? Simple, I didn’t know that you needed one, I’d never seen one. Since my coach had taken care of everything for us when we traveled there the first time, he had our passports and apparently these visas things with him. The tour group filled out all our documents and we were called ahead one by one to pass through customs. It’s not like I looked over the glass into the booth to see what that custom’s officer was doing. I stood still scared like everyone else entering Russia. So yep, no idea that you needed a visa to get into Russia.

But wait it gets better! This part is like a Mr. Bean episode, you couldn’t image what came next. As I’m getting ready to leave, without a visa or a round trip ticket, the University of Alaska me if I can take some much needed medical supplies with me. They had already arranged it with Aeroflot, they just needed someone to take it as baggage and get it to a person in Khabarovsk. I agreed, I wanted to be helpful, so they brought 20 boxes of medical supplies to the airport with me in Fairbanks. From there I would fly to Anchorage, Alaska and then to Khabarovsk on Aeroflot.

1992 Aeroflot in Anchorage, AK

When I got to the airport in Anchorage there were people from the airlines there to help me with the medical boxes. They got me over to the Aeroflot gate, and of course, the Russians don’t know anything about the medical supplies, which is typical. So now everyone is calling everyone trying to figure out what it going on. I only had about 2 hours between flights, so it’s a mess. It comes down to the last minute, they get the clearance from someone in Russia to load the gear and it’s a go. They hurry and rush me through the boarding process and I’m on the plane. Now I’m on the plane, without a visa, going to Russia. In a normal check in process, I would have walked up to the gate, tried to check in with my 2 bags and the agent would have asked me for my visa and my passport, they would have noticed that I didn’t have a visa and not let me board the plane. I would have learned what a Russia visa is, figured out how hard it is to get one and gone on to do something else with my life. BUT… because I had all the medical supplies and documents with me, they didn’t check, they just assumed, and hurried me and all my documents onto the plane (another lucky part).

Mind you, I still don’t know what a visa is or that I need one. About 2 hours before we land, the flight attendance come through with little papers to fill out. I didn’t really understand what I needed to do as the paper was in Russian and English. I did what I could and I figured they would help me when I arrive. We arrive, go through the old church like looking thing at the airport and the custom agent calls me forward. I give him my passport and stand there. He asks for my visa and I don’t know what he means, because I don’t know what a visa is, not because I don’t understand his English. They call over a translator and she asks me for my visa. At this point I give them all the documents for the medical supplies and simply tell them that this is all they gave me. If it’s not there it must still be in Alaska and they forgot to include it because I was in such a rush. I think that a visa is something that the airport agent gives you, I still don’t know what it is. They think that in the haste of loading me, my visa dropped somewhere and that it’s somewhere in Alaska, otherwise how would I have passed through customs leaving the USA. Little to they know that Aeroflot walked me right through that part :)

Now the airport is empty, all the passengers have gone and I’m in room with some General type guy. My friend that plays volleyball comes through finally and they tell her the situation. What the situation is at this point no one really knows, they’ve never had someone arrive in Russia without a visa. Just lucky me. With the current Aeroflot flight schedule, there is only one flight to the USA once a week, so the next flight is in 7 days. I can’t really sleep in the airport the whole time, and as I foreign woman, they don’t really want to detain me in any kind of Russia jail type thing. The General makes and exception and releases me to my friend, telling her that she has 7 days to get me a visa or I’ll be deported, but since I only had a one-way ticket, they don’t even know how they’re going to do that.

So I’m released into Russia without a visa, the first ever and most likely the only one that has ever done this. For clarity, I think we need to review the steps taken to get a Russian visa so that you can better understand what can’t happen in Russia now. To enter Russia legally, you would apply for a visa at a Russian Consulate or Embassy in your home country, for me the USA. The consulates are located in San Fransisco, New York and other cities in the USA. In order to apply for one, you need a sponsor, someone that invites you to Russia and is responsible for you while you’re there (this means that if I do something wrong, they pay the penalty, so an invite is a big deal). A hotel can also invite you, but you must state the reason you are traveling there and have supporting documents. The Russian Consulate then checks on you, your sponsor and the reason you want to go. If they approve it, they give you a visa for a limited amount of time. If I’d followed this process, the Russian team needed to invited me, which they wouldn’t have done because I can’t play volleyball like them and they wouldn’t want to be responsible for me. My friend couldn’t invite me because she doesn’t have the right to represent the team and I can’t just come visit my friend, Russia is still a closed communist country. Even if they did invite me, it could only be for a limited time, max 90 days, there is no way I could have stayed for 6 months or more to play volleyball. All of these would have stopped me from going to Russia and I would have just made other life choices, but I naively didn’t even know about this process. Fate? Good? Bad? I don’t know, I just didn’t know.

Now let’s talk about the process that happens when you arrive in Russia with a visa. You clear customs with your visa, then your sponsor has 48 hours to register you so that Russia knows where you are at at all times. You’re registered to a the location that you are staying and your sponsor is responsible for you. As of 9 pm on the 22nd of December, 1991 or maybe the 23rd of Russia I’ve now been released into Russia, without a visa, without a sponsor and without being registered. I’m a really likeable person, but this is unheard of in Russia.

So what do we go do next? Drink of course, what else would we do? If this isn’t a reason to celebrate, I don’t know what is. You can always make better plans when you’re drunk, can’t you?

Me Still in Shock, But Obviously Dealing With it Well :)

The best plan our drunken brains can come up with is taking me the the US Consulate in Vladivostok. No big deal that I don’t have any travel papers so we can’t take the 1 hour flight or the overnight train. But don’t worry, we’ll drive in the dead of winter 9 hr 28 min (750.3 km). This is a good plan, lets’ just keep drinking, then wake up in the morning and hit the road. Oh to be dumb and stupid again, what I would or wouldn’t give.

This Visual About Covers Everything I’m Attempting

So we crashed for a few hours, pulled ourselves together and got ready. Believe it or not, our sober, hungover brains in the morning, still thought this was a good plan. We had a Mark II Toyota with ok tires and there was a storm coming, but we had to go. Little did I know at this time that a visa can only be issued outside of Russia, you cannot get a visa in Russia. If you’re in Russia, you need to leave Russia and return to just renew a visa. Like I said, good thing I didn’t know this or we wouldn’t of had this next fun adventure.

Mark II Toyota 1992

My friend told me to dress warm for the trip, so I threw on some sweats and sneakers, thinking that is what she meant. I have my mid length coat and I was ready. Ignorance is bliss, this was the coldest trip I have ever been on. It was minus 30 outside, so the car couldn’t run and heat at the same time. We had blankets on, the car motor had a blanket on it and we still froze. I couldn’t feel my feet, there was ice on everything. I’m jet lagged, hungover and this is now starting to seem like a terrible plan. On top of that I’m hungry, so thank goodness I brought a box of Captain Crunch with me. My friends see that I’m eating my cereal dry and without milk, so they think I’m suffering. Little do they know we Americans eat dry cereal all the time. Next thing I know we’ve pulled over, the driver is running off somewhere, I thought he had to pee or something. Then he returns in 15 minutes with fresh warm milk straight from a cow.

This Looks Right, But It’s Not

Now I’m sure some of you reading this are thinking, wow, great, fresh warm milk from a cow with all it’s antibodies and probiotics. That was not me. The only milk I had ever had came from a carton and it was cold. I felt awful, I knew they were trying to help. None of them spoke a word of English and I didn’t speak any Russian, so I just motioned to my stomach and made a puking jester to get the point across that I can’t drink that, but thank you. The driver and the rest of the car happily drank the milk and I just ate my cereal.

On our way again and then the car broke down, of course it did. Somehow, we blew a spark plug. I’d been around cars enough to know that this isn’t something you just fix unless you have a spare spark plug in the glove box. So we sat in the freezing cold waiting for someone to come by and tow us to the next town. Once we got there I realized that we weren’t just going to call AutoZone and get something delivered. We could be here for awhile, so I might as well get as comfortable as possible. It was starting to get late and we’re going to either sleep here or near the garage as far as I can tell. I mean we were in the middle of nowhere, so very bleak choices. They put me in an old van, gave me some blankets and shut the door. Welcome to Russia. I’ve now been in Russia for less than 48 hours and I’m sleeping in a old van in the middle of nowhere, hungry and really cold. Due to exhaustion, I fell asleep.

I was woken up by my friend telling me that we’re going. The car was running somehow and these guys had rebuilt a spark plug. I love Russians, they won’t give up. The whole car could blow up at any minute, but they won’t give up. Now we’re on the road again and we actually get to Vladivostok. I was so excited to see our USA flag on the American Consulate. I went up to the gate with all the American pride and my USA passport, only to have the guard tell me that it’s closed because it’s Christmas Eve. I didn’t even notice the date with all this traveling, it’s not like I had a cell phone telling me everything. The guard seeing the state I was in told me that they were having a party at a restaurant just out of town and that I could find the consulate staff there. Off we go again.

My Driver Who Risked Everything to Help Me, US Consulate, Vladivostok

It’s evening now, and we head out to this really nice restaurant. We’re about 50 yards from the entrance to the restaurant and our car drives over a manhole that’s loose and gets the front tire stuck in. Oh this trip!!! This alerts the guards, they come running over, as if this is our attack plan, get our car stuck :) I’m done, I’m walking the last 50 yards in my sweats, sneakers, light jacket, stinky from sleeping in a van, and not a pretty sight at all. I approach this formal dinner with all the diplomats of Russia and the USA with no plan at all, I’m too tired at this point to even care or think of a plan. All I know is that I need to see Mary Fortino so that she can just speak English to me and help me.

They find her and she comes to meet me in the lobby. She is so clean and beautiful in her blue evening gown with low cut shoulders. Her voice is so soft, that I just start crying when she speaks to me. She sits me down and holds me, and I begin to tell her about my situations. It was good to talk to her, she listened, but she had no idea what to do with me either. No one has ever been let into Russia without a visa and you can’t get a visa while in Russia. She pulls over another Russian man, he is the head of something and he can do something for me, but I don’t know what. This is once again, not a language barrier issue, but merely, I don’t know what they are talking about. All I know is that we need to go see this man tomorrow in a city call Nakhodka 2 hr 57 min (153.5 km) away, have 2 passport photo like pictures of me and some money (I don’t remember how much) and he’ll do something for me.

Vladivostok to Nakhodka

We drive through the night again, freezing, just wanting to get there, get the photos and figure out next steps. I don’t know how the drivers are still awake and functioning, I slept a lot in the back seat and I’m barely awake. We get to Nahhodka, no issues getting there believe it or not. We find somewhere that can take photos and I meet this man in his office. He takes my photos, the money (a bribe) and comes back with this tri-folded, light purple document with stamps on it. He says, “There you go, that’s your visa”. It looked pretty official at the time, but looking back on it now, it was just a joke of a document. But, no one else in Russia had every seen this type of document either, so who would question this powerful man’s document, thus a had a make shift visa. I wish I would have taken a picture of it now to share, but it looked similar to an international drivers license type thing. Knowing that I was going to get a visa, my friends drove the car back to Khabarovsk and I took the train back with my friend. Slept the whole way.

We got back to the airport with only 1 day to spare, gave the General the make shift visa thing, he tore off one side with my photo on it, stamped it and filed it away. I was free to live in Russia and I didn’t have a date on this visa thing, so stayed and travel in Russia for 3 years with that fake visa. When I left the country and turned it in, the custom guy was furious, but since I was leaving, there was nothing he could do.



Tasha Poduska

I bring to the table a unique and eclectic professional journey that spans continents and industries. Want more, go to