Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tourists Robbed in the Metro in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG -- Groups of men are surrounding and robbing unsuspecting tourists in the St. Petersburg metro, police and several tourists said.

"It was a traveler's nightmare," said Chantal Rumble of Australia, whose parents, Peter and Ann Rumble, were robbed on April 29.

As she and her parents got onto a train in the central Mayakovskaya metro station, six to eight men in blue jeans and black jackets charged through the doors and surrounded them, Rumble said.

As soon as the train began to move, one man began kicking the mother's leg, while another somehow snatched a wallet from the father's inside, zipped coat pocket, she said. The wallet contained several credit cards and a wad of rubles and Australian dollars.

The men also took a small purse out of the mother's backpack, even though she held an arm over the bag throughout the incident, Rumble said.

"However, it was only when the family alighted at Gostiny Dvor station -- and the group of men disappeared into the crowd -- that we realized the extent of the robbery," she said in an e-mail.

Three weeks later, Italian tourists Rosemary and Michele Severino, who were visiting their son Claudio, fell victim to a similar robbery.

"On May 19 at 12:15 p.m. we stepped into the metro at Mayakovskaya station. Suddenly, five or six huge men blocked the entrance to the train, improvised a crush, surrounded my 73-year-old father, and searched him for valuables," Claudio Severino said in a letter.

"He did not call me, as at the time he did not realize what was going on. They got his wallet and escaped just before the doors closed," he said.

Other passengers witnessed the theft but did not react, he said. "They were only staring at the floor," he said.

The families' ordeals did not end with the robberies. Rumble said she and her parents approached a Gostiny Dvor police officer and were told that they were among many foreigners who had been robbed at Mayakovskaya that morning. The officer sent them to Mayakovskaya to file a complaint with its duty officer, who in turn sent them to the metro police's head office. "With great difficulty, we found the poorly signposted office, reported the incident and organized a police report -- but only in Russian," said Rumble, who speaks Russian.

Claudio Severino said his parents looked for the metro duty officer but were told that he had gone for a walk.

Metro police chief Alexei Minailov said pickpockets had long been a problem and plainclothes metro officers regularly rode the trains, hoping to catch them. "The problem with pickpockets, however, is catching them red-handed, which must be done for them to be prosecuted. That's very hard to do," he said.

He said metro police had detained 48 suspected pickpockets so far this year and 32 of them had been convicted and sent to prison. However, courts often release suspected pickpockets because the crime is not considered serious, he said.

Minailov advised tourists not to carry all their money and documents in the metro, not to keep wallets in back pockets and to be attentive. If surrounded by a group of suspicious people, shout loudly to get other people's attention, he said.

Tourists have also complained of being robbed by groups of Gypsy children on central St. Petersburg streets.