Last Updated on November 15, 2023 by Irena Domingo
In this article, I’ll explain how to access blocked Russian websites if you’re abroad (such as the Russian Railways website RZD.ru) or how to access websites that don’t work in Russia (such as Facebook or Instagram) if you live in Russia or if you’re traveling in Russia.
I'm going to talk about ...
- Why isn’t it possible to access some Russian websites from abroad?
- Why isn’t it possible to access some foreign websites from Russia?
- What is the solution? VPN services (free or paid)
Why isn’t it possible to access some Russian websites from abroad?
If you try to access websites from abroad such as rzd.ru (Russian national railway company), pochta.ru (postal service in Russia), mos.ru (website of the Government of Moscow) or websites of some Russian banks or Russian government services, you will find the following result: “This website can.t be reached, took too long to respond”.
In the same way, if you access your paid subscription to Kinopoisk (a Russian service like Netflix owned by Yandex) from abroad, you may not find the same series and movies as when you lived in Russia.
What is happening? The explanation is simple:
- First, some websites (for example, rzd.ru) are blocked from within Russia. This means that it cannot be accessed from outside of Russia. For example, Rzd.ru suffered many hacker attacks after the conflict in Ukraine and decided to block the website.
- Second, there are regional restrictions on Russian streaming services. Kinopoisk is present in 30 countries, but it does not offer the same content in each of them. Full access to the whole collection of films and series is only possible from Russia. This also happens with Netflix or HBO, the content you can access is different if you connect from the United States than if you connect from any European country. Note that services such as Netflix, HBO or other Western platforms no longer offer their services in Russia after international sanctions.
Why isn’t it possible to access some foreign websites from Russia?
The opposite is to connect to the Internet if you are in Russia. In this case, you will be able to access the rzd.ru website, but you will not be able to access services such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (X), among others, since, after the conflict in Ukraine and international sanctions, the Russian Government has expelled many Western services from Runet, the name by which the Russian Internet is called.
What is the solution? VPN services (free or paid)
The solution to be able to access blocked Russian websites from abroad or access Facebook or Twitter from within Russia is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). It’s legal.
A VPN is a technology that passes Internet traffic data across other countries and allows you to hide your real location. If you connect from home to a VPN with a server in Russia and with a Russian IP address, when you access rzd.ru, this website will believe that you are physically in Russia and will let you access the page. In the same way, you can make the Kinopoisk service believe that you are physically in Russia and it will let you access the whole catalog offered in Russia.
In the same way that foreigners use VPNs with servers in Russia to access Russian websites, people living in Russia also use VPNs with foreign servers to access content blocked in Russia such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Likewise, foreigners traveling to Russia will not be able to connect to Facebook unless they use a VPN.
Currently, Putin government is increasing restrictions on the use of VPNs in Russia, which means that VPN services that are now working in Russia may stop working in the future.
At this point, you’re probably wondering how you can use a VPN if you’ve never done so before. I will explain the 4 ways to do it, with their advantages and disadvantages, depending on the use you are going to give it.
To summarize it: if you only need access to blocked Russian websites to check information and you are not going to provide personal data, use streaming services, or download large volumes of information, a free VPN is probably sufficient. Otherwise, you’ll need to use a paid VPN service or create your own virtual private server (VPS).
Let’s see the different options:
Option 1. Browser extensions
The easiest way to have a VPN with servers in Russia is to install an extension on your browser. In this case, there is no need to register or install any specific software on your computer.
On the other hand, this is the most unstable solution since these are free and low-speed services. In addition, they are used to access Russian websites through the browser, but you won’t be able to open desktop or mobile applications with this option.
This is the best solution if you only want to access a Russian website where you don’t have to use personal data. For example, if you only want to check train schedules on the rzd.ru website. However, keep in mind that this website does not allow you to pay for train tickets with Visa, MasterCard, JCB or American Express cards issued abroad.
There are two extensions that work on Chrome:
VPN-Free.pro is a quite simple extension that doesn’t require any configuration. All you must do is select Russia in the drop-down menu and, of course, disable the VPN when you’re done.
Hide All VPN
Hide All VPN is also a free extension that doesn’t require any registration. It’s in English and in Russian.
Option 2. Free VPN apps
This option involves installing a software on your computer or an app on your tablet or mobile phone to have a VPN service. Free VPN apps tend to work better than browser extensions.
As in the case of browser extensions, this solution is suitable if you are not sending personal data or downloading substantial amounts of content.
There are several free VPN services that have servers in Russia:
VPN Naoborot is a service created especially for Russians living abroad. Russian websites open very quickly. The free plan is sufficient to use, for example, government services or to request certificates or pay taxes if you are a tax resident in Russia. If you need to download videos, then you should opt for a paid subscription for about 3 euros/dollars per month.
Using this service requires two steps. First of all, register on their website by providing your email (in the Russian version you have the free plan as indicated in the screenshot above).
Secondly, they will send you an attachment to your email that you must run with the OpenVPN application, which you can install on both your computer and your mobile phone. It can be downloaded for iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows and Linux.
Touch VPN is another free service that works for both computers and mobile phones. You don’t need to register, but to enable the VPN you’ll have to watch ads for several seconds. It has a traffic limit of 500 Mg per day, so you won’t be able to watch videos.
Urban VPN, like others, requires installing a program on your computer. It opens Russian web pages quite quickly. You simply must connect to a server in Russia. Keep in mind that it’s free for computers, but it’s paid if you want to use it on your mobile phone.
Option 3. Paid VPN apps
Paid VPNs are a much more reliable option than free VPNs, since they have a more stable connection, good speed and allow you to download videos and watch movies in HD. They are also more secure because the risk of data being transmitted to third parties is lower.
If you need to bank, pay taxes or watch videos on streaming services, a paid VPN is preferable to a free VPN.
They are quite economical. In addition, most allow a trial period. If you’re not satisfied, you get your money back, so I recommend first trying them from your location to check how they work.
However, you must hire a service that has Russian servers. Not all paid VPNs work in Russia. Some extremely popular VPN servers such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN or Surfshark have stopped working in Russia. In some cases, because they have suspended their operations in Russia because of the conflict with Ukraine and, in others, because the Russian Government has blocked their services in the country.
I would highlight the following VPNs with Russian servers:
Proton is one of the most popular VPN services in the world. It has a lot of servers in Russia and the connection speed is particularly good. You can use services like Kinopoisk without problems. It allows you to connect up to 10 devices (computer, tablet, mobile, etc.).
It also has a free version, but without servers in Russia. The paid version with Russian servers costs 5.99 euros/dollars per month.
Another VPN with exceptionally good reviews is Windscribe. Its free plan doesn’t include servers in Russia, so you have to subscribe to connect to servers in Russia. Price like that of Proton.
CyberGhost also has many servers in Russia. It may not be as fast as the previous ones, but HD videos load quite quickly. The cost is like that of Proton.
Option 4. Create your own virtual private server (VPS): Outline
This is probably the best option. It’s also cheap. The problem is that it requires more work to implement it, as well as some technical knowledge.
It consists of creating your own virtual private server (VPS) in Russia which you can connect to using a software. If you’re abroad, you’ll need a hosting service with servers in Russia such as RU VDS, Beget, Timeweb or Reg.ru. The problem is that many of these services do not allow paying with Western cards, so it is necessary to pay with a Russian card, with Yoomoney or, in some cases, using a Chinese UnionPay card.
I recommend using the Russian hosting service RU VDS since its website is in Russian and English and allows you to pay with foreign cards. In addition, you can purchase a VPS server from 130 rubles per month (less than 2 euros/dollars). It has servers in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, etc.
If you are in Russia and want to access websites such as Facebook or Twitter, you have the option of using a virtual private server but with servers abroad. In this case, Digital Ocean is the easiest to use, but you also have Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud.
The speed will depend on the hosting you have hired. In addition, only you will have access to the connection, so no one can intercept the information you transmit.
In addition to the hosting service, you will need to use Outline to create your VPS on the server (Outline manager) and to connect to it (via Outline client). This software is free, so you only need to pay for the hosting service.
What VPN have you used? Browser extension, free VPN, paid VPN or your own VPS? You can leave your comment below