Indonesian island loses patience with Russians, Ukrainians fleeing the war


With its balmy seashores, laid again life and vacation vibe, the tropical paradise of Bali has a lot to supply any world weary traveler – not to mention these fleeing a struggle zone.

So maybe it must be no shock that since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Indonesia’s most well-known vacation island has as soon as once more turn into a magnet for 1000’s of Russians and Ukrainians looking for to flee the horrors of struggle.

Some 58,000 Russians visited this Southeast Asian idyll in 2022 following its post-Covid reopening, and an extra 22,500 arrived in January 2023 alone, in accordance with the Indonesian authorities, making them the second greatest group of tourists after Australians. Including to their quantity are the greater than 7,000 Ukrainians who arrived in 2022, and a few 2,500 within the first month of this yr.

However for these fleeing the violence – or the draft – there’s hassle in paradise. Balinese authorities this week known as for the top to Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival coverage for residents of Russia and Ukraine, citing a spate of alleged incidents involving misbehavior and numerous examples of tourists overstaying their visas and dealing illegally as hairdressers, unauthorized tour guides and taxi drivers. The transfer has been met with dismay by many Ukrainians on the island, who say that a lot of the incidents contain Russians and that they’re being unfairly tarred with the identical brush.

“Each time we get stories a few foreigner behaving badly, it’s nearly at all times Russian,” a neighborhood police officer within the city of Kuta instructed CNN, declining to be recognized because of sensitivities surrounding the difficulty.

“Foreigners come to Bali however they behave like they’re above the legislation. This has at all times been the case and it has to lastly cease,” he stated.

Badly behaved vacationers generally is a sensitive topic in Bali, the place foreigners of varied nationalities recurrently make headlines for drunk and inappropriate habits, public nudity and disrespecting sacred websites.

However the Balinese authorities seem able to make an instance of Russians and Ukrainians amid rising public debate over perceptions of their conduct.

“Why these two nations? As a result of they’re at struggle in order that they flock right here,” Bali governor Wayan Koster instructed a information convention this week.

The inflow of Russians and Ukrainians into Bali comes regardless of Ukraine having banned all males aged 18 to 60 from leaving the nation. Russia has no official blanket ban, however has mobilized 300,000 reservists to affix the combating, prompting many younger males to flee overseas quite than be drafted.

CNN reached out to the Russian embassy in Indonesia and Ukrainian consulate in Bali. Russian embassy officers didn’t instantly reply; Ukraine’s Honorary Consulate in Bali stated Ukrainians within the nation had been largely females there for household unification causes quite than tourism and that they did “not need to violate the principles and laws.”

Whereas Bali was a favourite with Russian vacationers even earlier than the struggle, its points of interest have turn into solely extra interesting within the wake of Putin’s grinding invasion and subsequent mobilization.

And it’s removed from the one refuge in Southeast Asia. The island of Phuket in southern Thailand, usually lauded as among the many world’s greatest seashore locations, has seen a sudden inflow of Russian arrivals – a lot of whom have invested in property to make sure they’ll get pleasure from long-term stays. “Life in Russia may be very completely different now,” a former funding banker from St. Petersburg who purchased an residence close to Phuket’s Previous City district instructed CNN. He declined to reveal his id for concern of retaliation from Russian authorities.

“Nobody needs to remain and dwell in the midst of struggle,” he stated. “It’s tense desirous about the potential of returning to Russia and being punished… (so) it is sensible to spend money on a spot which prices lower than Moscow and is safer.”

In Bali, a part of the attraction has been right down to Indonesia’s coverage that enables nationals of greater than 80 nations – together with, no less than for now, Russia and Ukraine – to use for visas upon arrival. The visa is legitimate for 30 days however may be prolonged as soon as to a complete of 60 days.

That is likely to be loads of time for these planning prolonged holidays, however these looking for a extra extended keep usually are not allowed to work. Indonesian authorities stated a number of Russian vacationers had been deported in current months for overstaying their visas, amongst them a 28-year-old from Moscow who was arrested and deported after he was discovered to be working as a photographer.

Others who arrived hoping to seek out work have since returned dwelling, risking Moscow’s wrath if they’re suspected of fleeing the draft.

Among the many wave of Russians to have traveled to Bali was Sergei Ovseikin, a road artist who created an anti-war mural in the midst of a rice paddy area – a “mural” that mirrored his stance on navy conscription and the struggle.

“Like many others compelled to depart our native nation, I got here to Bali as a vacationer,” Ovseikin stated.

“Russia stays in a troublesome political state of affairs. I’m towards wars, regardless of the place they happen,” he stated.

“Lots of people who disagreed with the struggle flew to Bali – Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and others,” he added. “All of us get alongside nicely with one another… and perceive that peculiar individuals didn’t begin this struggle.”

Information of the doable change to the visa guidelines has rattled a few of the Ukrainians on the island, a lot of whom left their homeland when struggle broke out and have been dwelling on financial savings ever since, leaving and reentering each 60 days to keep away from flouting the principles.

“Bali is an effective place,” stated one Ukrainian named Dmytro. “It’s lovely, the climate is nice and it’s a secure place for Ukrainians – there could also be large teams of Russians, however there aren’t any Russian troopers.”

Ukrainians on the island had been a tightly knit group that largely evaded Russians and had been shocked by the doable transfer, he added.

“Ukrainians respect Balinese legislation and tradition. We do rather a lot for our native communities and don’t symbolize any danger for individuals in Bali,” Dmytro stated. “Many again in Ukraine have questions on Bali and would additionally love to come back.”

“It’s very unhappy that Ukrainians are being put in the identical (class) as Russians. Russians are the second largest vacationer group in Bali and when you learn the information, you’ll see how usually it’s Russians breaking native legal guidelines and disrespecting Balinese tradition and traditions,” he added.

“So why do Ukrainians need to endure when it isn’t us inflicting issues in Bali?”

Ukrainian people at the opening of the consulate in Denpasar, Bali.

Ukraine’s Honorary Consulate in Bali stated in a press release to CNN that there have been round 8,500 Ukrainian residents on the island as of February 2023, holding numerous momentary and everlasting visa permits.

“Ukrainians don’t come for vacation to Bali at this present second as our nation is being invaded. The Ukrainians coming to Bali now are for household unification (causes) and are largely feminine,” stated spokesperson Nyoman Astama.

“We reaffirm that Ukrainians in Bali don’t need to violate the principles and laws,” Astama added. “It’s crucial to implement the legislation and implement the results for any breach of the legislation as voiced now by the individuals in Bali.”

Nonetheless, for now no less than, anybody from both nation nonetheless hoping for a visa on arrival can take some consolation in the truth that the central authorities is but to determine on whether or not to grant the request by the Balinese authorities.

“We’ll focus on it intimately with different stakeholders,” Indonesian Minister of Tourism Sandiaga Uno instructed native reporters on Monday.