‘We are with you’: Sri Lankan hoteliers offer help to stranded Ukrainian tourists

Special ‘We are with you’: Sri Lankan hoteliers offer help to stranded Ukrainian tourists
Ukrainian tourists shout slogans in front of the Russian embassy during a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Colombo on Feb. 28. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 March 2022

‘We are with you’: Sri Lankan hoteliers offer help to stranded Ukrainian tourists

‘We are with you’: Sri Lankan hoteliers offer help to stranded Ukrainian tourists
  • 4,000 Ukrainian nationals have been stuck in Sri Lanka since Russia’s invasion
  • Sri Lankan authorities have extended their visas for 3 months

COLOMBO: When Russia invaded Ukraine four weeks ago, Igor Giudurg was on a vacation in Sri Lanka with his wife and children. They found themselves unable to return home to Kyiv, where Russian air strikes and shelling have since intensified.

His family is among 4,000 Ukrainian nationals left stranded in Sri Lanka since the attacks started on Feb. 24, according to data from the island state’s Ministry of Tourism.

Although Colombo has abstained from voting on a UN resolution that on March 2 demanded that Russia immediately end its invasion of Ukraine and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces, the Sri Lankan people have opened their doors to Ukrainian tourists in solidarity and support.   

One of them, Nuwan Managoda, runs the six-room Seth Villa, a guesthouse in Ranna, Hambantota district, in the country’s south where Giudurg is staying with his wife Alika and three children.

The family found Managoda’s invitation for Ukrainian tourists in a Telegram group.

“Mr. Managoda posted there saying he can help, so we contacted him. We are currently staying at his place,” Giudurg told Arab News. “Everyone knows our situation in Ukraine and is very helpful.”

While the situation in Eastern Europe remains volatile, he hoped they would be able to return soon.

“I think the war will end within one month,” Giudurg said. “And after that, we want to go back to Kyiv.”

To offer help to Ukrainians was an easy decision for Managoda and he has been inviting them to stay for free at his guesthouse since the beginning of the war.

“Ukraine has offered us a lot of support,” he told Arab News. “When we restarted tourism after a big hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Ukrainians were some of the first people to come here. We have to acknowledge that.”

Social media in Sri Lanka has been full of people offering support — from financial assistance to accommodation, food, and transport.

Janik Jayasuriya, whose family runs a hotel business, in late February posted a note on Facebook addressed to Ukrainian tourists, inviting them to stay for free at The Farmhouse in Ambewela, a hill station in central Sri Lanka.

“We are with you and will stand by you,” he said in the post.

And Jayasuriya told Arab News: “They can stay for as long as they need.”

Ajith Kumara Ranasinghe, the owner of Mutu Village Tree House, a bungalow in Habarana, Anuradhapura, in North Central Province, has also opened his property to stranded Ukrainians.

“I am a member of the Habarana Sancharaka Hotel Sangamaya (Habarana Tourist Hotel Union), and we made a collective decision that we would help any Ukrainians stranded in Sri Lanka,” he said.

While it was not clear when the tourists would be able to return to their country, the Sri Lankan government has extended their visas for three months. It did the same for Russian tourists too, as following the invasion international flights to Moscow have been limited amid a wave of international sanctions.

“The Cabinet has approved to extend visas, without payment, to both Ukrainian and Russian tourists wanting to stay here longer," Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told Arab News, adding that since the numbers of Russian and Ukrainian tourists were significant, authorities had been alerted in case of any clashes between them.

However, he said there had been no reports of any incidents. “So far, I am hearing, they are staying together with no problems,” he added.