Popular Russian blogger and photographer Ilya Varlamov finally made it to Azerbaijan, despite having first been denied entry due to being ‘undesirable’.

In a blog entry published on 2 November, Varlamov describes that he was immediately singled out at passport control and had to wait several hours without being given an explanation why. Border guards said they had reported him to the authorities and were waiting for further instructions, and that he was ‘probably in a better place to know what his problems were.’ Varlamov was eventually informed that he will not be let into the country because his presence was deemed ‘undesirable’.

To avoid spending a day in the deportation room waiting for the next flight back, Varlamov purchased a ticket to Istanbul, where he soon received a call from an unknown Azerbaijani number apologizing for the incident. The blogger reported that several people reached out to him to explain that a mistake was made, and that he was invited back to Baku with all expenses covered.

When Varlamov flew to Baku once again, he was greeted with flowers and welcomed into the country.

According to Haqqin.az, the responsible border officers who denied him entry had acted on their own initiative and have already been ‘severely punished’

Azerbaijani authorities repeatedly deny entry to foreigners who have been to Nagorno-Karabakh, most recently to a member of the German Bundestag who was supposed to accompany Chancellor Angela Merkel during her first visit to Azerbaijan. Varlamov, however, has never been to Nagorno-Karabakh and suspected  a critical article from an earlier visit to Baku to be the real reason why he was initially denied entry.

In August 2016, he had published a series of photo reports processing the main impressions and takeaways from his stay in Baku. ‘Baku – The Good’ is an ode to modern Baku, a flourishing city rich with culture, history and architecture, where tourists enjoy the abundance of cafes and restaurants in the beautiful old town. ‘If you have not been to Baku – you have not lived’, as the blogger put it. However, aiming to depict the truth, Varlamov also captured the side of the city that authorities are usually keen on hiding: the outskirts of Baku, with half-collapsed buildings, heaps of garbage, and poor infrastructure; the lack of public transportation and space for pedestrians; unemployed men waiting for an occasion to work; deserted skyscrapers and business centers in the city center.

The Russian blogger is known for capturing not only current political developments but also the realities and problems of life in big cities. On his site, varlamov.ru as well as YouTube, he often reflects on how living conditions could be improved and how communities could be involved in urban planning. His site has become increasingly popular and in 2017 attracted an audience of 17 million users.

Varlamov is regularly criticized and attacked for his civic activism. In April last year, during a visit to Stavropol, unknown assailants doused him with an antiseptic based on diluted triarylmethane dye – twice in a single day. The so-called Zelyonka attack, notorious for leaving victims with green-dyed faces, is widely used on Russian opposition leaders.