Crisis-stricken Sri Lanka is welcoming thousands of stranded Ukrainians | Russian-Ukrainian War News

As the sun goes down under the waves of the Indian Ocean, Ukrainian tourist Viktoria Makarenko and her daughter burn incense every evening at a temple in the Sri Lankan beach resort to pray to return home.

Invasion of Russia The 35-year-old’s hometown in February left thousands of foreign tourists from two countries stranded on the tropical island.

But Ukrainians with empty wallets, distressed by the fate of loved ones back home, say they have been overwhelmed by support from locals – despite their own difficulties in facing them. with financial crisis worse.

“I love Sri Lanka and the people of Sri Lanka,” Makarenko told AFP news agency. “Everybody wants to help us.”

She, her husband and their five-year-old daughter had been traveling around Sri Lanka for weeks when Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

They are running out of cash and desperate for their predicament before the locals in the resort town of Unawatuna rally around them, offering them free accommodation, food and even incense. lit for their daily trips to the temple.

“The owner of this hotel kept us here for as long as we needed. We have food, water, we don’t have headaches [over] what to eat tomorrow,” said Makarenko.

“We are safe here and they take care of us.”

A Ukrainian tourist
A Ukrainian tourist holds a banner during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in front of the Russian embassy in Colombo [File: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Along the white sands of Sri Lanka’s south coast, dozens of tourist-oriented businesses are advertising offers or assistance for stranded Ukrainians.

Ahesh Shanaka, manager of Blackgold cafe in Mirissa, said he asked a Ukrainian customer holding a baby if she would return home.

“She said, ‘I can’t go back, my house has been destroyed, where can I go?'”

A sign outside offers half-price meals upon presentation of a Ukrainian passport, and nearby guesthouses have made available rooms for small groups of backpackers from the country.

Shanaka believes that his Sri Lankan colleague’s generosity stems from still intact memories of the island’s own experience of conflict – a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009.

“We’ve faced situations like this before… We know suffering, we know pain,” he said.

The current difficulties of Sri Lanka have adversely affected business activities: Long queue to buy fuel and blackouts are threatening to cut off operators and bring to an abrupt end to the budding tourism renaissance following the pandemic.

“We’re in a bad situation, you know. The crisis, our economy is going down, everything is bad,” Shanaka said.

“But we’re people too, they’re people too, that’s why we’re trying to help.”

Official figures show that about 15,000 Russians and 5,000 Ukrainians visited Sri Lanka in the month the conflict began – becoming the island’s first and third largest source of tourism, respectively.

Sri Lanka has granted free visa extension for citizens of both countries.

Many Russian tourists are also stranded at home, having their funds cut off after the United States and its Western allies imposed sanctions on the international payment network.

But none of their offers were advertised, and they hesitated to talk.

“We have to go meet our friends,” one young Russian said before he and his friends turned back to admire the ocean views at the historic Dutch Fort in Galle.

The public supported Ukraine in the conflict. Slogans condemning the war are covered in the yellow and blue colors of the country’s flag on the walls along the coast.

Darina Stambuliak, another Ukrainian in Unawatuna, inadvertently extended time because of the war, told AFP.

The 33-year-old said she was previously forced to flee Donetsk when pro-Russian separatists declared secession in 2014.

Now she spends most of her time worrying about news updates from home. But a generous discount on her accommodation helped ease her worries.

“Business owners have always loved and supported us,” she said. “We are very grateful.”

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