What do Latvians buy on «shopping tours» in Russia?

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Latvians living by the border with Russia often go on shopping tours, with the cheap ruble giving residents a chance to save on gas, cigarettes, alcohol, food and more, reported Latvian Radio 4 Thursday.

The road to Sebezh in Russia is long and difficult, despite being a mere 60 km from Ludza in Latvia's east. It is easy to work out the formalities, however the correspondent of Latvian Radio 4 has to wait in line for three hours as Russian customs officials have lost internet access. About a hundred cars are waiting in line since then.

"Everyone has the association that everybody's going just for gas and vodka. However people who care about their family choose a wider assortment than that. [..] My children were born and, comparing the assortment of baby food that we could buy here and its effects on the child's organism, to the Russian one, we opted for the one we could buy in Russia," one of the drivers told Latvian Radio 4.

What's striking across the border with Latvia is that there are more than ten filling stations while there's only one on the side of Latvia. A liter of diesel fuel costs just 58 cents here. According to a gas station employee, their turnover triples during holidays.

Small stores, pharmacies and a tobacco shop are located between the petrol stations. One of the Latvians said that he doesn't even compare the prices. He only buys cigarettes and sugar here. Cigarettes cost three times less than in Latvia.

Sebezh, which has around 10,000 inhabitants, has three large retail stores just by the central market. Smaller stores are across the road. While parking lots have dozens of cars with Latvian plates, with the rest being Russian or Belarusian.

People are reluctant to speak to someone holding a microphone, and that's why the report doesn't state peoples' names. Some take the correspondent for a Security Police employee. While when the microphone is hidden people do open up, saying they buy coal for half the price here, as well as construction materials, tools and machinery.

Drugs are also much cheaper, with prices up to ten times lower across the border, and some, like Corvalol, not being sold in Latvia without a prescription. It can all be shipped across the border by showing a receipt that can't be worth over €300. People Latvian Radio spoke to say the border is the only annoying factor, as if there's no queue a round trip takes just four hours but some have waited at the border for days.

The Sebezh central market has a lot to offer. The first thing one notices are the smoked eels just by the entrance, with stalls selling spice, dried fruit, nuts, vegetables, sweets, and meat nearby. There are about 150 such outlets by the border.

Half of the sellers are from Belarus. They sell clothing and manufacture goods unavailable in Latgale. However some of the products - like specific sorts of meat, and dairy products - aren't allowed back across the border due to restrictions related to the African swine fever.

About 200 cars cross a single border post to go shopping each day, and about 30 to 40 people walk across on foot.

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