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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gypsy Children Rob Tourists in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG -- Dozens of tourists to St. Petersburg have been robbed by crowds of Gypsy children in recent months, prompting the Russian Tourist Industry Union to appeal to the police for help.

"Crowds of Gypsies started surrounding tourists and stealing from them this summer," said Sergei Korneyev, head of the union's St. Petersburg branch. "The police have to do something about this as soon as possible, because this looks like a developing trend. If it is ignored, it could grow like a virus."

Greencastle Travel Ltd., a tour operator based in Hereford, England, sent a letter Sept. 3 to the union complaining that 21 elderly tourists in a group of 35 were robbed over two consecutive days in August. On both occasions, a group of Gypsy children circled the entire group in broad daylight on Nevsky Prospekt, near the Oktyabrskaya hotel. The children prevented the tourists from moving in any direction and then grabbed their purses, wallets and handbags.

"It would appear that St. Petersburg is now the crime capital of Europe, and as professional tour operators, we have to question the wisdom of sending any more groups of tourists to St. Petersburg," Stuart Nicholls, sales manager for Greencastle Travel, wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times. "It seems that crime is completely out of control and the St. Petersburg authorities are doing absolutely nothing about it."

If such robberies continue, British tour operators will have no alternative but "to discourage tourists from visiting St. Petersburg," Nicholls said. "I know that street crime is a problem in most major cities throughout Europe, but to have more that half the people in one group involved in robbery of some kind is beyond belief!"

Last month, a group of young people beat and robbed an elderly U.S. couple in the St. Petersburg suburb of Pavlovsk. Shortly after the incident, police detained six Gypsy children on suspicion of participating in the attack.

"We know statistics on crimes against foreigners are very low in the city compared with general statistics on all crimes, but incidents of this kind seriously damage the city's image as a tourist destination," Korneyev said. "This looks especially critical in the 300th anniversary year, which we had hoped would lead to more tourists visiting the city."

Even during anniversary celebrations at the end of May, foreign visitors complained of being robbed.

"On May 27, when St. Petersburg was filled with police, a colleague of mine escorted a group of German journalists from ZDF channel ... [and] they were robbed on Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa, next to the Grand Hotel Europe," said a written complaint to the Russian Tourist Industry Union, signed by Pavel Netupsky. "A group of Gypsy children stole from their bags, which, among other things, contained their travel documents. The tourists were shouting for help, but a police patrol standing near the spot did nothing to stop the theft and ignored their request. The police did not show up even after a Russian representative in the group called 02 [the police telephone number]. Nothing was done until the police press service was contacted," Netupsky said.

The Russian Tourist Industry Union has asked the police to put more officers on patrol on Nevsky Prospekt. It also intends to hand out to tourists a leaflet with basic information about whom to contact if a crime should occur and how to behave to avoid being targeted.

Police spokesman Pavel Rayevsky said more patrolmen will be put on beats around Nevsky Prospekt, with one of the main aims being to make the street safe for foreign tourists.

"We had [a plan] to double the number of patrols on Nevsky Prospekt and were trying to resolve financial questions with the former [city] administration, such as money for the patrol work, new uniforms and cars. We solved the car question, but failed with the rest of the financing," Rayevsky said Monday.

"We will definitely do something in the future. We're going to resolve this problem with the administration, taking into account the results of the recent [gubernatorial] election," he said.