For most of last year, thousands of Russians and Ukrainians flocked to the Indonesian island of Bali to escape the war. There they found refuge in a tropical paradise, where locals rolled out the welcome mat to Ukrainians fleeing the shelling and Russians dodging the draft.
Then a Russian influencer naked scaled a 700-year-old sacred tree.
After that, a Russian street artist painted an anti-war mural on a private home, and a Russian teenager was caught vandalizing a school.
A series of recent motorcycle collisions involving Russians and Ukrainians has raised questions about road safety on the island.
Now the once hospitable Balinese have had enough. Amid a spate of complaints, Bali Governor Wayan Koster announced earlier this month that he was asking the Indonesian government to withdraw Russia and Ukraine’s access to the country’s visa-on-arrival program.
He said many of those who flocked to Bali to escape the war not only flouted a number of local laws but also sought jobs on short-term tourist visas. (Obtaining a visa on arrival is usually instant and requires a $33 fee and no paperwork.)
The Balinese have long put up with badly behaved tourists in mostly isolated incidents. Now they regularly complain about half-naked foreigners riding motorbikes and desecrating objects considered sacred on the predominantly Hindu island.
“It’s like they live in a bubble and don’t care about what’s outside the bubble,” said I Wayan Pardika, 33, a Balinese tour guide for a hotel. “It’s okay for them to be half-naked, just driving around in a bikini and without a helmet. But they don’t see that the locals around them aren’t doing the same.”
The Balinese initially understood the plight of the new emigrants. Many provided loans for car and home rentals to Russians cut off from the international payment system due to sanctions. After two years of lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, they were eager for revenue.
But later they found that many Russians had taken jobs on the island – as surf instructors and tour guides. Some started their own car and home rental businesses, violating tourist visa laws and sapping local income.
“We opened our doors, we opened our arms and we greeted them with big smiles,” said Niluh Djelantik, founder of a luxury shoe brand in Bali. “But our kindness was taken for granted.”
Many Balinese say part of the problem is that authorities are struggling to cope with the sudden influx of Russians, who now make up the island’s second largest tourist group after Australians. Last year, 58,000 Russians and 7,000 Ukrainians visited Bali. This January alone, 22,500 Russians came to the province.
In May 2022, the Indonesian government added Russia and Ukraine to the list of countries eligible for its visa-on-arrival program. The visas allow Russians, Ukrainians and citizens of 85 other countries to stay for an initial 30 days and an additional 30 days if they apply for an extension.
Sandiaga Uno, Minister of Tourism, indicated that the government will not revoke the visa program as requested by the Bali governor. In a weekly address earlier this month, he said the number of people causing problems is “not all that significant.” Last November, Sandiaga told the New York Times that the government would help renew tourist visas for those fleeing the war.
But authorities in Bali have focused on increasing traffic violations involving Russians and Ukrainians, sometimes fatally. In response, Wayan, the governor, last week announced a ban on all foreigners riding motorcycles, a decision Sandiaga said should be reversed.
Grishanti Holon, 33, a Russian digital artist, said many of his compatriots who come to Bali come from small provinces with little contact with the world. He said he formed a group to teach Russians Balinese norms and encouraged them to open shops to create jobs for locals.
“Now too many people come and think, ‘It’s okay for me to do whatever I want,’” Holon said.
The Bali Tourism Authority said it will put up signs in English, Russian and Ukrainian next week urging tourists to follow “common sense rules”. “Do not post offensive, vulgar images on social media,” read one poster. “Restrict scant beachwear to appropriate venues.” Offenders, she warned, would face “heavy fines and deportation.”
Ukrainian Ambassador to Indonesia Vasyl Hamianin told reporters last week he was offended that Wayan lumped Russians and Ukrainians together. Hamianin asked the governor to show him crime statistics involving Ukrainians, citing Indonesian government data showing that Russians were responsible for 56 traffic violations in Bali last week, eclipsing the five Ukrainian cases puts.
Hamianin said the 5,000 Ukrainians currently residing in Bali contribute to the local economy, pay their taxes and are “nice and obedient citizens”. He said they were there because of the war, but “the absolute majority of them say they want to go home”.
“I think it’s only human to allow people fleeing war to stay in your country for some time,” Hamianin said.
Much of the frustration in Bali has centered on Russian tourists. Niluh, the founder of the luxury shoe brand, has an Instagram account with 564,000 followers. Her account has become a clearinghouse for what she believes are examples of bad behavior by Russians in Bali. (On Monday, she posted two videos showing a Russian baring his rear end on a sacred mountain and another alleged Russian picking a fight with a local security officer.)
On Thursday morning, Yuri Chilikin, the Russian tourist who had exposed his behind, showed up at Niluh to apologize.
At Niluh’s request, Chilikin, a 23-year-old from Moscow, agreed to hold a ceremony on the mountain to apologize. Niluh told Chilikin that if he complied with other laws, she would tell local officials not to deport him.
Elena Pozdniakova, 33, an engineer from Moscow who arrived in Bali last September with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, said she was “shamed” by multiple reports of misbehaving Russian tourists.
“I just want to say that not every Russian is like that,” she said.
Pozdniakova’s husband, Sergei Pozdniakov, said he understands the frustration because he has also seen some of his compatriots behaving rudely. Despite the anger on social media, he and his wife say they remain touched by Balinese hospitality. “We’ve never met a Balinese who said, ‘Because you’re Russian, you’re bad,’” Pozdniakov said.
In an interview, Silmy Karim, director general of immigration at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, said he was still considering Wayan’s proposal to scrap the visa-on-arrival program for Russia and Ukraine. He said his main focus is weeding out foreigners who break local laws and he studies the examples of other countries with large numbers of Russian tourists, including Thailand, where more than 350,000 Russians live on the Thai island of Phuket alone.
“You can be neat,” he said. “It’s up to us to take care of them and discipline them.”