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

COLOMBO: When Russia invaded Ukraine four weeks ago, Igor Giudurg was vacationing in Sri Lanka with his wife and children. They found themselves unable to return home to kyiv, where Russian airstrikes and shelling have since intensified.

His family are among 4,000 Ukrainian nationals stranded in Sri Lanka since the attacks began on February 24, according to data from the island state’s tourism ministry.

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

One of them, Nuwan Managoda, runs Seth Villa, a six-bedroom guesthouse in Ranna, in the southern district of Hambantota, where Giudurg is staying with his wife Alika and their 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 house,” Giudurg told Arab News. useful.”

While the situation in Eastern Europe remains unstable, he hopes they can return soon.

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

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

“Ukraine has given us a lot of support,” he told Arab News. “When we restarted tourism after a big hit following the coronavirus pandemic, Ukrainians were among the first to come here. We have to recognize it. »

Social media in Sri Lanka is full of people offering support – from financial help to housing, food and transport.

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

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

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

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

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

Although it is not clear when the tourists could return to their country, the Sri Lankan government has extended their visas for three months. The same was true for Russian tourists, as after the invasion international flights to Moscow were restricted amid a wave of international sanctions.

“Cabinet has approved the extension of visas, without payment, to Ukrainian and Russian tourists wishing to stay here longer,” Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told Arab News, adding that as the number of Russian and Ukrainian tourists is high, the authorities had been alerted. in case of clashes between them.

However, he said no incidents had been reported. “So far, I hear they are staying together without a problem,” he added.

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