Money crunch for Malaysian students in Russia as payments systems hit

The prices of goods in Russia have generally spiked. PHOTO: NYTIMES

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With limited access to cash, their credit cards almost useless and other payment methods not working, Malaysian students in sanctions-hit Russia are in a quandary.

Many also have limited access to Facebook and Twitter and their links to the outside world have been disrupted.

Amid the uncertainties, many are just on standby for evacuation, with a bag of essentials by their side.

"We can't withdraw money from banks that have connections with the United States and Britain. The pay wave service doesn't work properly and it's very inconsistent," said Albert Bailey Liaw Kok Voon, 26, a student at the Privolzhsky Research Medical University in Novgorod Oblast, in north-western Russia.

Prices of groceries have gone up after the Russian rouble crashed to record lows. It's now at just about 3.6 Malaysian sen to a rouble or 28 roubles to a ringgit.

The rouble ended the week on Friday down more than 20 per cent against the US dollar and the euro in Moscow trading, following sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded neighbouring Ukraine.

While the weaker rouble meant more cash when converted from the Malaysian ringgit, the prices of goods in Russia have generally spiked.

"Even Russian citizens are scared and traumatised. It's going to be hard for them to survive as so many things have been cut off," said Liaw who is from Kuala Lumpur.

He told The Star that the Malaysian Embassy was working on an evacuation plan.

"We have been told to be on standby and pack our valuable documents too," he said.

Malaysian Albert Bailey Liaw Kok Voon, a student at the Privolzhsky Research Medical University in Novgorod Oblast. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Shasveena Sooriaprakash, 23, said there was no access to international banking as they were blocked although the situation in Moscow was under control.

"We tried our best to cash out as much as possible. However, most ATMs were out of cash," the fifth-year medical student at the I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University said.

"As of now, selected ATMs are open to the public but there are limits to withdrawals. We students have an ATM in the university campus."

She also said alternative payment methods such as Google Pay and Apple Pay were very limited.

"As foreign students here in Russia, we are worried that if this currency crisis prolongs, we will not have enough funds to sustain ourselves," she added.

She said students in Moscow were constantly on alert in case violence were to flare.

"We have all our essential items packed and are ready to go in the event anything unfortunate happens," she said.

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Both Liaw and Shasveena noted that access to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter had been disrupted.

However, not all parts of the country are affected by the crisis.

In Volgograd in south-west Russia, there has been little disruption.

Brandon Richard Lim Liang Koon, 25, said there had been no problems with ATM withdrawals and credit cards were still being accepted in the city formerly known as Stalingrad.

"As for now, prices of imported goods, groceries and other items are still the same. But we expect prices to rise," said the Penang-born student at the Volgograd State Medical University.

His university mates Ho Zhi Jun, 25, and Nur Anis Emilia Mohd Shukry, 21, said the weakened rouble meant they would have more money when converting the ringgit.

"During my six-year stay here, the lowest it hit was 20 (to the ringgit) back in 2016. I am not that worried as I mostly buy local goods and not imported goods," said Ho.

Anis, on the other hand, said she had also withdrawn some cash.

"In terms of safety, we just have to be alert as we are not sure whether Ukraine will retaliate," she said.

Long queues were reported at Russian banks as citizens scrambled to withdraw money out of fear of cash shortages and disruption in payments after the European Union and United States slapped the country with unprecedented sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.

In response, the Bank of Russia more than doubled its key interest rate to 20 per cent, from 9.5 per cent - the highest interest rate in almost two decades.

Follow The Straits Times' live coverage on the Ukraine crisis here.

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