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KNBA News - 8 Arctic nations meet in Anchorage as one Alaskan struggles to get back from Russia

Oct 21, 2015

Eight-nation Arctic Council meets in Anchorage

The United States has taken the helm of the Arctic Council and the 8-nation body is meeting in Anchorage this week. Nils Andreassen is the executive director of the Institute of the North, which is facilitating the meetings. He says the U.S. has identified several priorities for its council chairmanship: economic development, improved living conditions, search and rescue and marine stewardship. Friday, the Alaska World Affairs council is hosting a lunchtime panel discussion on international cooperation in the arctic. The event is open to the public.
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Alaskan man stranded in Russia as visa runs out

By Matthew Smith, KNOM - Nome

A man from the Bering Sea island community of Savoonga is stuck in Russia after traveling to visit friends and relatives under a unique visa-free program for Alaska Natives. The chartered flight that was set to bring Sivoy Miklahook to Alaska was canceled. Western Alaska residents—from Kotzebue to Savoonga—are rallying to bring Sivoy home.

Sivoy Miklahook flew just over 230 miles across the Bering Strait—from Nome, Alaska to Provideniya , Russia—in late August. He’s now in a small vilage called New Chaplino. The trip was following up with some Russian relatives after they visited his St. Lawrence Island home in Savoonga back in May.

 “He’s just visiting his friends and relatives over there. This is what he wanted, he wanted to go over there for the experience,” said his older sister Carol.

She says that “experience” is a shared language and culture that dates back thousands of years. It’s only in the last few decades that travel has become problematic. Political tensions make crossing the border—a couple hundred meager miles—no easy task. Since 1989, Alaska Natives and Chukotans have used a unique visa-free travel program to visit family on both sides of the Strait. But even without visas, that travel isn’t easy.

“In order for just one passenger to fly on one of our charters, there’s lots of planning,” said Nina Wideman, who runs the Russian Travel Desk for Bering Air—the only carrier in western Alaska with the clearance to make the flights across the international dateline to Russia. And there’s no regular trips to Russia, either—every flight is a chartered plane and can take up to three weeks to prepare.

“You have to have a Russian visa, a Chukotka border pass, and a Russian invitation for your host, your Russian host,” said Wideman.

Even though Sivoy and other Alaska Native travelers don’t need that visa—that’s a requirement mostly for other tourists passing through Nome—there’s still a lot of paperwork to cross the border. Pilot Ryan Woehler flies the charters to Russia.

“I don’t even think they use fax, it’s usually telex, and you have to get permission from Moscow and somebody in Vladivostok has to sign off on it, and Petropavlovsk, and the military, and the customs and the border guard, and each of these different agencies have to be part of the permission process, and it’s a big deal,” said Woehler.

It all adds up to just a 90-day window. Sivoy’s been there since August. Worse still, the plane he was planning to fly home on was canceled—and short of booking his own charter, there’s unlikely to be another flight any time soon.

 “Basically at this time of year, we have no scheduled charters until next summer,” said Wideman.

Sivoy’s sister Carol says his time is running out. He has to leave by mid-November.

 “There was a flight that was supposed to come beginning of this month that was supposed to bring him back. He needs to pay for his own charter now, before a certain time,” she said.

But charters are expensive—really expensive.

 “From Nome to Provideniya it’s $5,450 one way, and it seats six passengers,” said Wideman. “We need air navigation permissions, we need our landing permissions, all of those things, they charge us for all of that stuff. Russian customs for landing, the fuel that we have to buy over there … we get charged for all of it.”

Friends and family are doing what they can back on St. Lawrence Island to help—bake sales and small donations—and one friend from the Island started a donation page on the popular crowd funding website Go Fund Me—letting anyone with internet access chip in toward the 4-thousand dollar goal.

And that’s where Sivoy is now—trying to extend his stay, while also trying to figure out how to afford a flight home. Pilot Ryan Woehler says—despite the friendly and welcoming locals—he knows Russia’s not the kind of place you want to be with expired papers.

 ‘The Russians don’t see a lot of opportunities around, ‘well, your visa expired, I’m sorry,’ haha. They don’t see a lot of solutions,” said Woehler. “If it’s expired, it’s expired. You’re basically in trouble.”

Trouble is exactly what Sivoy’s family says he’s trying to avoid—as they scramble to raise money for a flight home.

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University of Alaska Fairbanks revamps its handling of sexual assault

After hiring investigators to look into how sexual assaults on campus were being handled, the University of Alaska Fairbanks has found five instances of sexual misconduct in 2012 when proper student disciplinary actions did not take place. Three of those cases involved rape.

All five cases also went through the criminal process with Fairbanks police and the district attorney.

The University now has overhauled its entire system – with new policies, coordinators, training, and a centralized tracking system, plus an awareness campaign.

Remedies now include suspension or expulsion of students found guilty of sexual assault, and, for the victims, Marsh says UAF provided counseling, medical assistance and academic help.

In 2012, UAF had four complaints. This past school year, there were 44 reports. Those numbers are still low compared to national averages which show one in five females experience sexual assault while in college.