Some Russians in Singapore concerned about not being able to send money home

Mr Vadim Zoubovski runs Dumplings.RU at Maxwell Road. He said some netizens left hateful comments on his restaurant's Facebook page. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - When news broke that financial institutions here would be banned from doing business with four Russian banks, Mr Alex Blinov became concerned that there would be fewer options to send money to his 81-year-old mother in Moscow.

Mr Blinov, 50, who moved to Singapore in 2005, is currently able to do bank transfers to her, but is unsure if she can withdraw the money in Russia.

"There are limitations on withdrawals of foreign currencies in Russia and the Russian exchange rate is lagging behind the market rate," said Mr Blinov, a founder of the Russian Club in Singapore, which serves the Russian community here.

There are around 4,000 Russians in Singapore, according to the Russian Embassy in Singapore. Many are business owners, while others work mainly in the technology and banking industries.

Ten Russians The Straits Times contacted about the ongoing war in Ukraine said they were concerned about the lives lost in Ukraine, as well as how their families back home would cope with the international sanctions.

Some were reluctant to be interviewed, citing concerns about new Russian laws that could impose prison terms or fines for those spreading "fake news" about the military, or calling for sanctions against the country.

A Russian who wanted to be known only as Maria said she was worried for her parents living back home. Her mother, 69, and her father, 71, both have heart conditions and require imported medication.

The digital marketing specialist added: "When they heard about the sanctions imposed on Russia, they quickly bought enough medication needed for the next few months."

She is also worried she would not be able to see her parents due to growing aviation industry sanctions.

Singapore Airlines, for example, on Feb 28 announced the indefinite suspension of all flights between Changi Airport and Moscow, citing "operational reasons".

Maria, who last saw her parents in October, said: "It's hard to tell how long the sanctions will be in place. Who knows when I will be able to see my parents again?"

Some Russians here said they have encountered hurtful comments online. In particular, online trolls have hit out at business owners who sell Russian cuisine here.

Mr Vadim Zoubovski, 51, who runs Dumplings.RU at Maxwell Road, said some netizens left hateful comments on his restaurant's Facebook page, accusing him of using the conflict in Ukraine to promote Russian food.

"The negative comments escalated quickly. There were comments asking me to change the name of my restaurant. Someone even asked me to get Putin to stop the war," he said.

Mr Vadim Zoubovski said some netizens accused him of using the conflict in Ukraine to promote Russian food. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The Singaporean permanent resident, who was born in the former USSR in a town which is now part of Ukraine, put up another Facebook post on March 1 urging the public to be “kinder in their words and refrain from leaving further hate speech”.

Mr Zoubovski, who came to Singapore in 2004, said that since the post, he has received online support from many Singaporeans.

Anna, who declined to give her full name, the director of the Balagan Russian Singapore Amateur Chekhov Theatre, said her business was the target of hate comments online when the conflict began on Feb 24. But the trolling has since stopped.

The Russian Embassy in Singapore said there have not been any reports about mistreatment or discrimination of its citizens here. It told ST in a statement it regrets that anti-Russian campaigns launched in the Western media could "warm up Russophobic sentiments" in Singapore.

Mr Blinov, who has permanent residence here, said: "The majority of us are not involved in politics. We just want to work hard, feed our families and support our loved ones back home.

"I urge members of the community to donate to the Singapore Red Cross to help those affected by the conflict in Ukraine. Actions speak louder than words."

Wednesday marked the 14th day of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian troops that had left more than one million Ukrainians displaced and over 400 civilians dead.

On Sunday (March 6), Ukraine's military said more than 11,000 Russian troops had been killed since the start of the invasion. Sanctions imposed on Russia over the past two weeks include freezing the assets of Russia's central bank. Visa, Mastercard and American Express are among global brands that have suspended all operations there.

Remote video URL

Several other Russians living here said their friends and colleagues in Singapore have been frequently checking up on them since the conflict began.

A Russian communications manager, who declined to be named, said: “I think people acknowledge that there is a separation from what Putin is doing and what the Russians think. All my Russian friends in Singapore are opposed to this war.”

The 41-year-old, who moved here in 2018, said she supports the sanctions imposed on Russia despite being directly affected by it. Her apartment in Saint Petersburg can no longer be used for Airbnb bookings since the home-sharing platform suspended all operations in Russia last Friday (March 4).

"This is a small price to pay to hope that we can have peace soon," she said. "I'm worried for the people in Ukraine and for the future of my country."

  • Additional reporting by Lauren Chian, Nicole Cheah, Lok Bing Hong

This story has been updated for clarity.

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

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.