I was in Russia for a couple of weeks at the start of August, and the trip went well (you can see a few pictures on my tumblr). That is, it went well until my last night. Thieves stole my 35mm lens right off the front of my camera in the metro in Saint Petersburg. The red ring on the front of an L lens might as well be a neon sign.
It’s a known attack in the city, but after speaking with the police, seems to be relatively new. You can see how quickly the crime happens in the video above.
I’d spent the afternoon near the water outside the Peter and Paul Fortress (site of this Cartier-Bresson image) and, as the sun went down, joined the crowds getting back on the metro at Gorkovskaya Station. Getting on to the metro, I put my bag and my camera across my body in front, as is my habit in crowded situations. The train car doors opened and suddenly I was being jostled more than I should have been for the size of the crowd. I saw hands going for my camera, and instinctively reached to protect camera, camera bag, wallet, and phone. It was too much to protect and the 4 or 5 guys, all dressed alike, kept gently jostling me back and forth. That was enough. I finally pushed through the crowd, but then felt that some weight was gone. I looked down, and my lens had disappeared. The pickpockets had quickly run out of the train car right as the doors shut.
There was a bit of distance before the next station, and once there, I found a metro worker and got the police involved. The thieves were no doubt long gone and I would be leaving the country the next day, but I needed a police report. I don’t know how the process would have gone if I didn’t speak Russian, but I have to say the metro police were quite pleasant to deal with. They took down information about the crime, noted descriptions of the guys who surrounded me (all wearing baseball caps, buzzed haircuts, nondescript gray t-shirts), and had me look at a book of mugshots. They had apprehended one person in the area about the same time as my theft, but I couldn’t make a satisfactory identification.
I consider myself lucky. I didn’t get hurt, my gear was insured, I didn’t lose my passport, and so on. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Russia (this was my 4th time in the country, and the first during which anything bad happened) or Saint Petersburg, but I’ll stay a bit further away from crowds in touristy areas next time.
I’ve got to commend Package Choice, my gear and liability insurance company, for handling this as well as they did. Less than a week after the theft, I had a replacement lens in hand. I’ve never filed a claim with any insurance company before, but this was easy. Pay a small deductible, provide a few documents (police report, proof of ownership), and they did the rest. I shopped around a bit before settling on them a few years back, and I couldn’t find anyone else that offered the same service and coverage. From the get-go, they’ve provided domestic and international coverage for theft and accident, domestic liability (and a little international, or more if you pay extra), and very quick responses on everything from updating gear lists to getting same-day insurance certificates for free to getting my lens replaced in this case.