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Russian, Ukrainian tourists stranded abroad

Martin Koch
March 4, 2022

What was supposed to be a vacation in the Dominican Republic, Turkey or Egypt has turned into a nightmare for thousands of Russians and Ukrainians. Many Russian travelers are increasingly struggling with payment issues.

Ukrainian tourist, Ivanna, holds her son Vova while crying at the Egyptian Red Sea tourist resort as they react to the situation in their home country
Desperate Ukrainian tourists have been stranded abroad, including at the Egyptian resort of HurghadaImage: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/REUTERS

In the Dominican Republic alone, there are currently about 14,800 Russian and almost 3,000 Ukrainian tourists stranded due to travel restrictions imposed after Moscow's invasion of its neighbor.

The Caribbean country has announced it would guarantee them the right to stay in their lodgings "until a conclusive solution is found to their situation in light of the conflict in their countries," according to a statement from the Tourism Ministry. An agreement to that effect had been reached by the government and the Asonahores Hotel and Restaurant Association, as well as hotel representatives, it said.

In addition, a process for the repatriation of tourists to Russia has been agreed with Russian tour operators. According to the main Ukrainian tour operator, the approximately 1,900 visitors will stay in their assigned hotels until a solution is found for their return home.

Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops on February 24, many countries suspended air traffic with Russia and banned Russian aircraft from flying over their territory. In return, Russia closed its airspace to aircraft from 36 countries. As a result, about 150,000 travelers worldwide are stranded because they can no longer get back to their home countries.

Ukrainian Honorary Consul to the Dominican Republic, Ilona Oleksandrivna, making an appeal at a press conference
Ilona Oleksandrivna, Ukraine's representative in the Dominican Republic, made an appeal for help on WednesdayImage: Erika Santelices/AFP/Getty Images

A tearful appeal

Ilona Oleksandrivna, Ukraine's honorary consul to the Dominican Republic, tearfully pleaded with President Luis Abinader at a press conference earlier this week to help stranded Ukrainians. Oleksandrivna said more than 1,200 of her compatriots had been forced to leave their hotels due to lack of money and were now "living on the streets."

An adviser for immigration issues at the Ukrainian consulate said many of those affected could not be helped with travel insurance, as it did not cover them in the event of war.

Tourism Minister David Collado has announced a meeting with representatives of the private sector to ensure that the stranded Ukrainians could remain without encountering further difficulties. "The Dominican state will respond responsibly and with human sensitivity," he said. 

Tourists from Russia and Ukraine account for about 10% of all visitors to the Dominican Republic. In the first two months of this year alone, there were almost 110,000 arrivals.

Egypt offers three-star accommodation

Thousands of tourists have also been stranded in Egypt. According to official estimates, around 20,000 Ukrainians are unable to travel back to their home country.

View of the cityscape of Cairo, Egypt
Cairo is one of the many Egyptian destinations popular with both Russian and Ukrainian holidaymakersImage: Gehad Hamdy/dpa/picture alliance

According to the online portal mein-aegypten.com, a tourism blog, the Egyptian Tourism Ministry has instructed the managers of three-star hotels to provide stranded Ukrainian tourists with three meals a day and refreshments. A tourism fund will cover the cost of accommodation and meals, the ministry said.

Guests in four- and five-star accommodation, on the other hand, were to decide for themselves whether to stay in their hotels at their own expense or move to the subsidized three-star establishments.

The ministry also announced, following a meeting with representatives of the ministries of foreign affairs and transport, that tourists from all countries whose international air traffic has currently been affected could stay in their hotels until their safe return home is guaranteed.

Tourists from Ukraine usually receive a "tourist visa on arrival," which allows them to stay in Egypt for up to 30 days. As the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin told DW, many of the vacationers have not yet exhausted this time period. The government has not yet decided on possible extensions beyond this time limit.

Last year, more than 1.4 million people from Ukraine spent their vacations in Egypt. This made them the second-largest group of European tourists in the country on the Nile.

Ukrainian tourists chat on the beach of a hotel
Ukrainian tourists have also been left stranded on the Indian Ocean archipelago of ZanzibarImage: Ericky Boniphace/AFP/Getty Images

Zanzibar trying to 'help' stranded Ukrainians

Several hundred Ukrainians are also stranded on the island of Zanzibar, which belongs to Tanzania, according to local authorities. The newspaper The East African, based in Nairobi, reported that the "almost 1,000" people were "tourists" who could no longer return to their homeland after the invasion by Russia. Now they are seeking a diplomatic solution. The question is whether they should be sent on to Poland.

Ukrainian tourists stranded in Zanzibar

According to Zanzibar's tourism minister, Lela Muhamed Mussa, the vacationers are staying in hotels. Some of them were staying free of charge and receiving humanitarian assistance, according to authorities. Hussein Mwinyi, president of the semi-autonomous region, said they were trying to "help" the stranded Ukrainians as best they could. They've also received consular support from the Ukrainian Embassy in Kenya.

Tourists also stuck in Europe

In Europe, Greece and Turkey are among the most popular vacation destinations for people from the two countries currently at war. Last year, Turkey recorded more than 2 million guests from Ukraine and 4.7 million from Russia. The Turkish Embassy in Berlin could not say on Friday how many travelers from the two countries are currently abroad in Turkey.

Sotiris Krystallis, the press attache for the Greek Embassy in Berlin, told DW that only a few tourists from Ukraine are currently in the country, according to the authorities in Athens. However, there are now more than 2,700 Ukrainian refugees who are being helped in Greece. 

By contrast, there are currently about 2,000 Russian visitors in Greece, according to the data. They usually receive a visa that allows them to spend 90 days in Greece within six months. The Greek authorities are working closely with the embassies of both countries to provide the best possible assistance to their respective nationals.

A person holding a mobile phone next to the SWIFT payment logo
There are increasing reports that credit cards and other means of payment are no longer being accepted from RussiansImage: Chris Helgren/REUTERS

Problems with payments

Many Russian travelers are increasingly struggling with substantial logistical problems. Increasingly, people have reported on social networks that their credit cards and other means of payment are no longer being accepted after various Russian banks were excluded from the SWIFT system for international payments.

According to the Romanian travel portal AirlinesTravel, payment systems such as Apple Pay and Google Pay have also been affected, as are withdrawals from ATM cash machines. This information comes from both banks and tourists, who have left numerous comments to this effect on social networks.

But these organizational problems are only one side of the story. There's also the fact that they are stranded far from home, and many don't know what their home will look like when they're eventually able to return.

This article was originally published in German