NATO Joining Potential Brings Relief to Border Finns


Marti Kailio, 73, a Finnish pensioner struggling from the Ukraine war, holds a hunting rifle from his home in Hivaniemi overlooking the Russian border across the lake.

“It makes me so upset to be one of the first volunteers to go out there with a loaded gun, even though I’m not young enough to be a soldier anymore,” he says.

Many Finns living on the eastern border were greeted with relief at the possibility of applying for NATO membership.

For many Finns living on the border with their eastern neighbors, the prospect of Finland applying for NATO membership has been a relief. Photo: AFP / Alessandro RAMPAZZO

“We should have joined earlier. We don’t have to drag anymore,” says Kailio.

Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (800 miles) border with Russia, has in the past withdrew from its military alliance.

But after a powerful eastern neighbor invaded Ukraine in February, Finland’s president and prime minister on Thursday urged Finland to join NATO “without delay”, with political and public opinion changing dramatically in favor of membership. It was.

For some Finns, the Russian attack on Ukraine evoked painful memories of the Winter War of 1939, when the Red Army invaded the Nordic countries.

Martti Kailio, 73, a Finnish pensioner suffering from the Ukraine war, holds a hunting rifle in his hand. Martti Kailio, 73, a Finnish pensioner suffering from the Ukraine war, holds a hunting rifle in his hand. Photo: AFP / Alessandro RAMPAZZO

As in Ukraine, a small Finnish army met with fierce resistance, inflicting heavy losses on the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, Finland was forced to cede vast lands to the Soviet Union.

Finland's president and prime minister urge NATO membership 'without delay' Finland’s president and prime minister urge NATO membership ‘without delay’ Photo: AFP / Alessandro RAMPAZZO

With a farmhouse a short walk from the Russian border in Suokumaa, Veli-Matti Rantala, 72, carries a rusty military helmet and tells the story of a battle in the surrounding forest.

“I’m not too worried about the situation anymore, the help is coming because now we are joining the western world,” he says. For him, joining the Finnish alliance is a necessity.

Just a few hundred meters from the Russian border in Vainikkala, 59-year-old teacher Jaana Rikkinen grew up listening to Russian border guards on the other side of the lake.

Just a few hundred meters from the Russian border, 59-year-old teacher Jaana Rikkinen grew up listening to border guards on the other side of the lake. Just a few hundred meters from the Russian border, 59-year-old teacher Jaana Rikkinen grew up listening to border guards on the other side of the lake. Photo: AFP / Alessandro RAMPAZZO

After losing his uncle in the war, Rikkinen feels “relieved” that Finland is now joining NATO, despite previously having doubts about it.

She recalls that even after the war, she regularly crossed illegal borders near her home.

“It always happened at night. First I heard hounds, then gunshots,” says Rikkinen.

In 2001, a Russian military deserter crossed the border and broke into a house next door, killing himself in a gunfight with police.

Rikkinen is concerned that if the situation in Russia worsens, more people may try to cross the border.

Despite the region’s history, the residents have always had many connections with people beyond their borders.

“Russia has always been fearful for many years, but in this area we interacted with Russians every day,” said Rantala.

He says the Finns who live on the border are very familiar with Russia and many say that they have friends in Russia.

Before the war, Rikkenen crossed the border for weekly shopping and weekend trips to St. Petersburg, and had no “negative words” about the Russians.

But that “trust in neighbor is gone”.

“The border is closed and you never know what will happen if you go there,” she says.

Since most of Vainikkala’s livelihoods are linked to Russia, and the train station and border guards employ most of the villagers, Rikkinen fears that border communities will suffer from conflict.

“I just want the war to end,” she says.

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