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Bali’s Patience Wears Thin Towards Russians and Ukrainians Fleeing from War

Published: March 22, 2023 at 8:28 pm


With its sunny beaches, easy-going lifestyle, and holiday atmosphere, the tropical paradise of Bali has plenty to offer any world-weary tourist, let alone those escaping a war zone.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it is probably not surprising that Indonesia’s most renowned holiday island continues to become an attraction for thousands of Ukrainians and Russians fleeing the horrors of war.

According to the Indonesian government, roughly 58,000 Russians visited this Southeast Asian paradise in 2022 after its post-Covid reopening, and another 22,500 came in January 2023 alone, putting them the second largest group of tourists behind Australians. More than 7,000 Ukrainians arrived in 2022, and over 2,500 arrived during the first month of this year.

There is, however, turmoil in paradise for individuals escaping violence or the draft. This week, Balinese officials demanded an end to Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of Russia and Ukraine, stating a series of reported incidents comprising misbehavior as well as numerous instances of tourists overstaying their visas and working illegally as hairdressers, unlicensed tour guides, and taxi drivers. Several Ukrainians on the island have expressed disappointment at the decision, claiming that the majority of the occurrences involve Russians and that they are being unjustly branded with the same brush.

“Whenever we have complaints of a foreigner misbehaving, it is generally always a Russian,” a police officer in the town of Kuta told CNN, refusing to be named due to the matter’s sensitivity.

He stated that foreigners who visit Bali act as if they’re above the law. This has always been the case, and it must end.

In Bali, where visitors of several nationalities often make headlines for inebriated and improper conduct, public nudity, and disrespecting sacred places, misbehaving tourists can be a sensitive topic.

Yet, during a growing public discussion about their behavior, the Balinese authorities seem prepared to set an example for Russians and Ukrainians.

Regardless of Ukraine’s restrictions on men between the ages of 18 and 60 leaving the country, an influx of Russians and Ukrainians has come to Bali. Yet, Russia has enlisted 300,000 reservists to join the conflict, leading numerous young men to escape overseas in order to avoid being recruited.

Ukraine’s Honorary Consulate in Bali stated that most Ukrainians in the country were women there for repatriation rather than tourism and did not intend to breach the rules and regulations.

Bali Is Not the Sole Tourist Destination for Russians and Ukrainians

Even though Bali was already a popular destination for Russian tourists before the conflict, its attractiveness has only increased in the aftermath of Putin’s grueling invasion and successive mobilization.

Also, it’s not the only refuge in Southeast Asia. The southern Thai island of Phuket, which is often considered one of the best beach destinations in the world, has experienced a sudden surge of Russian visitors, most of whom have invested in property to guarantee they can attain long-term vacations. A former investment banker from St. Petersburg who had just purchased an apartment in Phuket’s Old Town neighborhood told CNN that life in Russia had changed dramatically. He refused to reveal his identity out of fear of punishment from Russian officials.

He said, “Nobody wants to live during a battle.” Contemplating the thought of returning to Russia and being punished is distressing. Hence, it is reasonable to make investments in a cheaper and safer location than Moscow.

Indonesia’s policy of granting visas upon arrival to citizens of more than 80 countries, including, at least for the time being, Russia and Ukraine, has contributed to Bali’s popularity. The visa is valid for a period of thirty days and can be renewed once for an additional 30 days, for a total of 60 days.

Those arranging extended vacations may have a longer stay, but those desiring a more extended stay are prohibited from working. In recent months, a couple of Russian tourists were deported from Indonesia for overstaying their visas, including a 28-year-old from Moscow who was detained and deported when it was discovered he was working as a photographer.

Some who came in search of employment have subsequently returned home, facing the fury of Moscow if they are accused of evading conscription.

Sergei Ovseikin, a Russian street artist, was one of the Russians who flew to Bali, where he painted an anti-war mural in the center of a rice paddy field, reflecting his opinion on military conscription and the war.

“Like many others compelled to flee our homeland, I traveled to Bali as a tourist,” says Ovseikin.

Russia is in a challenging political scenario. I am opposed to wars wherever they occur, he stated.

“Several individuals who opposed the war traveled to Bali, including Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians,” he said. We get along nicely with one another and recognize that ordinary citizens did not initiate this conflict.

‘It is lovely… no Russian soldiers.’

Several Ukrainians on the island, many of whom fled their nation when conflict broke out and had been surviving on savings ever since, leaving and reentering the country every 60 days to avoid breaking the restrictions, are worried by the possibility of a modification to the visa requirements.

Dmytro, a Ukrainian, stated, “Bali is a wonderful place.” There may be large crowds of Russians, but no Russian forces are there.

He indicated that Ukrainians on the island were a close-knit community that avoided Russians and were astonished by the potential migration.

Ukrainians adhere to the laws and culture of Bali. Dmytro stated, “We are doing a lot for our local communities and pose no harm to the people of Bali. Several Ukrainians have inquired about Bali and would like to go there.”

“Putting Ukrainians in the same (group) as Russians is quite unfortunate since Russians are the second-largest tourist group in Bali. If you follow the headlines, you will notice how frequently Russians violate local laws and disrespect Balinese traditions and culture,” he said.

“So, why should Ukrainians suffer when we’re not the ones bringing problems to Bali?”

According to a statement sent to CNN by the Honorary Consulate of Ukraine in Bali in February 2023, approximately 8,500 Ukrainian nationals were residing on the island with temporary and permanent visas.

Ukrainians should not be going to Bali for vacation at this time since our nation is being attacked. The Ukrainians traveling to Bali seeking repatriation are primarily women, according to spokesperson Nyoman Astama.

Astama stated, “We emphasize that Ukrainians in Bali have no desire to break the rules and regulations.” It is essential to execute the law and impose the repercussions for any violation of the law, as the people of Bali have spoken.

The central government has yet to decide whether to accept the Balinese officials’ request for a visa-on-arrival. Nonetheless, for the time being, anybody from either country still expecting a visa-on-arrival can take comfort in knowing that a decision has not yet been made.

On Monday, Indonesian Minister of Tourism Sandiaga Uno said to local media, “We will address it in detail with other stakeholders.”


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