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Some Alaska Natives Granted Visa-Free Travel To Russia

Some Alaska Natives from the western part of the U.S. state can again travel to Russia's Chukotka region without a visa under a decades-old agreement that was revived in mid-July.

Vera Metcalf, a Native leader and U.S. State Department employee in Nome, said on July 31 that administrative roadblocks have recently been cleared, allowing the resumption of a program that enables native residents from both sides of the Bering Strait to visit for up to 90 days without a visa.

Travelers must have documented invitations from family or other residents living on the other side. A passport also is required.

Many Alaska Natives have historical and cultural links to the Chukotka region, and many still have relatives there — including Metcalf, who was born and raised in the Yup'ik Eskimo village of Savoonga about 60 miles southeast of the Russia border.

"I'm excited about it," Metcalf said.

Bureaucratic regulations had forced indigenous Alaska residents to get a visa to visit Russia during the past three years. But members of those same native tribes on the Russian side did not need a visa to visit Alaska under a 1989 pact between the United States and Soviet Union.

Based on reporting by AP and TASS