Bali, the most famous tourist island in Indonesia, was one of the favorite holiday destinations of Russians even before the Russian aggression against Ukraine. After the outbreak of war and possible mobilization to the army, this interest increased even more. In 2022, almost 60,000 Russians arrived in this “paradise of Southeast Asia”, as CNN writes, but also several thousand Ukrainians. “Nobody wants to live in the middle of a war,” one Russian visitor said anonymously.
CNN notes that since the president of Russia Vladimir Putin launched an invasion Ukraine in February 2022, Bali – the most famous holiday island Indonesia – again “became a magnet for thousands of Russians and Ukrainians seeking escape from the atrocities of war.”
According to the data of the Indonesian government, in 2022 the island was visited by about 58,000 Russians, and in January 2023 alone, 22.5 thousand citizens of this country arrived there, which makes them the second most visited nationality after Australians. To these figures should be added more than seven thousand Ukrainians who arrived there in 2022 and about 2,500 who reached what CNN writes as “Southeast Asian paradise” in the first month of this year.
“Trouble in Paradise”
“But those who are fleeing violence – or conscription – are in trouble in paradise,” adds CNN. The point is that the Balinese authorities in mid-March called on the central Indonesian authorities to change the policy on granting visas to citizens Russia and Ukraine. They referred to a number of alleged incidents of misbehavior, including the fact that some of the arrivals took illegal jobs as hairdressers, tour guides, taxi drivers and drivers. The move has been met with consternation by many Ukrainians on the island, who say most of the incidents involve Russians and they are being unfairly measured by the same yardstick.
“When we get reports of misbehavior by a foreigner, it’s almost always about a Russian,” a local police officer in the city of Kuta told CNN. “Foreigners in Bali behave as if they are above the law. This has always been the case and it must be stopped,” he added. “Misbehaving tourists are a sensitive topic in Bali, where foreigners of various nationalities regularly make headlines for drunken and inappropriate behavior, public nudity and disrespect for sacred sites,” he comments.
“No one wants to live in the middle of a war”
The influx of Russians and Ukrainians to Bali comes despite Ukraine banning all men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country. There is no official ban in Russia, but Moscow has mobilized 300,000 reservists to join the war, prompting many young men to flee abroad for fear of conscription.
CNN journalists contacted the Russian embassy in Indonesia and the Ukrainian consulate in Bali. Representatives of the Russian embassy did not comment on the matter, and the Honorary Consulate of Ukraine in Bali said that Ukrainian citizens in the country are mainly women, coming to the country as part of family reunification, not tourism, who do not want to violate the rules and regulations.
However, Bali is not the only refuge in Southeast Asia for Ukrainians and Russians fleeing the war. Phuket island in the south Thailand, considered to be the tourist pearl of this country, recorded a sudden influx of Russian arrivals. According to CNN, many of them have invested in real estate to ensure their long-term residency. “Life in Russia is completely different now,” said a former Saint Petersburg investment banker who bought an apartment in Phuket. He refused to reveal his identity for fear of retaliation from the Russian authorities.
“Nobody wants to stay and live in the middle of a war,” he said. “It is stressful to think about the possibility of returning to Russia and being punished … (so) it makes sense to invest in a place where the cost of living is less than in Moscow and where it is safer,” he adds.
“Ukrainians respect Balinese law and culture”
Indonesia allows citizens of more than 80 countries – including, at least for now, Russians and Ukrainians – to apply for a visa upon arrival. The visa is valid for 30 days, but can be extended once up to a total of 60 days.
Indonesian authorities said several Russian tourists have been deported in recent months for overstaying their visas, including a 28-year-old from Moscow who was arrested and deported after it turned out he was working as a photographer.
Others who had come hoping to find work returned home, risking the wrath of Moscow if they were accused of escaping conscription.
The news of the possible change in visa rules shocked some Ukrainians on the island, many of whom left their homeland after the war broke out and have since lived off their savings, leaving and re-entering every 60 days. “Bali is a good place,” said one Ukrainian named Dmytro. “It’s beautiful, the weather is great and it’s a safe place for Ukrainians – there may be large groups of Russians, but there are no Russian soldiers,” he added.
“Ukrainians respect Balinese law and culture. We do a lot for our local communities and do not pose any threat to the people of Bali,” assured Dmytro. He also assessed that “it is very sad that Ukrainians are placed in the same (category) as Russians.”
The Honorary Consulate of Ukraine in Bali told CNN that as of February 2023, there were about 8,500 Ukrainian citizens on the island with various temporary and permanent visa permits.
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