Living with the enemy: Tropical paradise Bali becomes refuge for thousands of Ukrainians, Russians

Living with the enemy: Tropical paradise Bali becomes refuge for thousands of Ukrainians, Russians

People spending their time at Kuta beach on the popular tourist island of Bali. Many Ukrainians and Russians have made the Indonesian resort island their home. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

Russia and Ukraine may be at war, but thousands of their citizens are living alongside each other in the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Many have made the island their home, after leaving their countries following the invasion of Ukraine that is approaching the one-year mark on Feb 24.

With no end in sight to the conflict, Indonesia’s top tourist destination has become a temporary refuge for citizens and businesses seeking an escape.

According to government data, more than 7,000 Ukrainians arrived in Bali last year, but last month alone, there were more than 2,500 arrivals.

Last year also saw more than 58,000 Russians arriving on the island. In January this year, there were more than 22,500 arrivals, making Russia the country with the second-largest foreign arrivals that month.


Mr Tjokorda Bagus Pemayun, head of the Bali Tourism Agency, said: “Last year, they hit a peak. The trend has increased since Bali began (opening its doors) without quarantine on March 7.

“Why Bali? Maybe even though they are at war, (the travellers) have increased significantly because, indeed, Bali is a place for peace. It is very peaceful, and instead (of being in their respective countries), they are living in Bali.”

The head of the Ukrainian community in Bali, who only gave his name as Dmytro, found himself on an extended stay, after the invasion happened while he was on holiday on the island.

Now, he is building a community in Bali for other Ukrainians.

“The last eight months, I’ve focused only on this,” he said. “Our goal is still the same – to help Ukraine, to find ways we can help, to build strong connections with the local people, with the local government, police…”


After the war started, one Ukrainian travel agency decided to move its base to Bali, and has also hired several Ukrainians to work there.
Meanwhile, some Russians have also offered support to their fellow citizens looking to move to Indonesia.

Ms Anna Pomarina owns a consultancy helping Russian-speaking firms set up shop in Indonesia. She also has a hotel in Bali where she moved to at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I help dozens of businesses to start here in Indonesia, because they are looking at how to earn money again for their families or they want to expand their existing businesses,” she said.

According to the National Statistics Agency, Russian tourists ranked 9th in 2021 when it came to spending money in Indonesia, spending an average of US$3,710 per trip.

Data from Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board showed that Russian businesses accounted for more than 6.5 per cent of foreign investments in Bali last year, up from 5 per cent in 2021, with these concentrated in real estate.

Mr I Wayan Puspa Negara, chairman of the Alliance for Marginal Tourism Operators in Bali, said: “We need maintenance – so how to maintain the volume of arrivals of Russian and Ukrainian tourists to Bali, in the midst of a war between Russia and Ukraine.

“Imagine if there was no war between Russia and Ukraine, we are sure that there will be an explosion in the number of Russian and Ukrainian tourists to Bali because they see that Bali is truly unique.”

While it is a long way from home, many Ukrainians and Russians still look forward to returning home when the conflict ends.

In the meantime, they believe staying in Bali is their best option.


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