Russian tourists stranded in Asia run out of money

NOTOTHER BREAK the charm of a beach vacation as abruptly as the news that it is impossible to return home, as many Russians know from harsh experience. In February, tens of thousands of tourists fleeing their country’s harsh winter thawed in several Asian countries near the equator. But on February 24, their vacation came to an abrupt end when Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting many countries to impose sanctions on Russia. Airspace restrictions have prompted some airlines, including Russia’s flagship carrier, to cancel flights. Then Visa and Mastercard announced that from March 10, credit cards issued in Russia would no longer work abroad. Cut off from their bank accounts, many Russians have struggled to rebook their flights. Some 7,000 are now stranded in Thailand, another 11,500 in Sri Lanka and more than 19,000 in Bali, an Indonesian island.

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They feel the pinch. Ivan Klokov, a 36-year-old web designer vacationing in Phuket, a Thai island, had to move several times to cheaper accommodation. Olga Bebekina, a 31-year-old writer, managed to withdraw cash from an ATM in Sri Lanka days before her credit cards were frozen. But by the end of March, she had enough to last only two or three weeks.

Help has been provided. Governments have extended Russian tourist visas for one month in Thailand and three months in Sri Lanka. Many hoteliers offer Russians deep discounts on room and board. Toke Terkelsen has invited those in need to stay for free at his hostel in Phuket. “Better they stay here than be a soldier,” he said.

Some tourists have found ways to access their funds, by buying cryptocurrencies or through money transfer systems like Western Union and TransferWise. Yet they find that their dosh is not going as far as it used to. The value of the ruble halved in the weeks following the invasion (although it rallied strongly this week). As a result, the cost of living in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Bali has become higher than in Russia, according to several tourists this correspondent spoke to. For the amount Alena Murkes paid for her ‘no luxury, just the usual’ villa in Bali, ‘I can get a four-bedroom apartment in central Moscow, near the Kremlin, with the best interior design. ‘interior’.

The ruble’s fall has made the Russians’ scramble to get home even more urgent. With great difficulty, Mr Koklov managed to buy a plane ticket to Russia but fears it will be cancelled. Those who prefer not to return to Russia face difficult choices. Ms. Bebekina hopes to live abroad. She doesn’t think she’ll get much work in Russia, given the economic turmoil, and fears authorities will punish her for her social media posts critical of the regime. But she finds the prospect of starting a new life outside of Russia both daunting – finding a job abroad will be difficult – and depressing. As a writer, “my life is connected with the Russian language”. She speaks for many of her compatriots when she says: “I’m not happy to have to consider other ways to live my future.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Rubles in Paradise”

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