Arctic 30 heading home after being cleared under Putin amnesty

30 Greenpeace activists detained in September will have left the country by the end of the weekend after having their charges dropped and being issued transit visas

All of the 30 Greenpeace activists and journalists detained in Russia following a protest in the North Sea will have left the country by the end of the weekend, the environmental group has said.

The 30 had been cleared earlier this week by an Amnesty Bill passed by President Putin in what Kremlin critics say is a move timed to improve Russia's image ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

The group had faced charges of hooliganism and up to seven years in jail after the ship they were on was stormed by Russian security officers in September.

They were initially charged with piracy, which carries a more severe sentence of 15 years imprisonment.

Russia's treatment of the 30 activists from 18 countries, including six Britons had drawn heavy criticism from Western politicians and celebrities alike.

The group have lived in a St Petersburg hotel since being bailed nearly five weeks ago after spending two months in jail.

Yesterday, Swedish activist Dima Litvinov became the first to leave Russia, crossing the Finnish border after receiving an exit stamp in his passport.

A plane carrying five Britons and a Canadian took off shortly after 11:30am local time from St Petersburg airport today. Among them was Alex Harris, 27, from Devon.

Before departing she said: “We’re leaving Russia, it's over, we’r e finally truly free. It feels like the moment I’ve been waiting for, and my family too, but also for millions of people around the world who have worked for this, and I simply cannot find the words to say how grateful and humbled I am by their support.

"People I will never meet have campaigned for our release, they wrote emails, they marched, they protested, they made a noise that became deafening, even in the Kremlin. I promise I will repay those people by using my freedom to stand up for the Arctic.”