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'It's been tough': Singaporeans in Russia cope with changes after invasion of Ukraine

'It's been tough': Singaporeans in Russia cope with changes after invasion of Ukraine

People walk past a currency exchange office in central Moscow on Feb 28, 2022, with zeros on the scoreboard since there are no three-digit sections on it to display the current exchange rate. (Photo: AFP/Alexander Nemenov)

SINGAPORE: Singaporean Nigel Li went to bed on the night of a patriotic holiday in Russia and woke up the next morning to find out that the country he currently lives in invaded Ukraine

"I simply was stunned because when you're studying international relations, you always believe that the states act as rationally as they can," said the 22-year-old undergraduate who is studying governance and international relations in Moscow.

"Even a state like Russia, which has conducted certain actions that have challenged the international system, the policymakers and actors have always done so in a very careful calculated way and such a blatant action was definitely a shock."

Despite feeling "numb" from not knowing what would happen next, Mr Li told CNA on Monday (Feb 28) that he has started making contingency plans with friends and anticipating situations such as a disruption in communication services. 

He has also had to hunt for automated teller machines that would dispense the quickly depreciating Russian rouble

"I was going from ATM to ATM to try to find machines that would provide cash," he said, adding that there were long lines as well. 

Mr Li managed to withdraw 7,500 roubles (S$100) and said that he has enough money to last him a few weeks. A friend has helped him to set up a cryptocurrency wallet as well.

"Emotionally, it's been tough because I have to worry about all these existential matters, right? Making sure I have enough cash and all that while also trying to study," he said. 

His university, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, has tried to maintain a degree of calm but matters are different at his dormitory.

"International students are scrambling to leave," said Mr Li, adding that a French classmate will be taking a flight on Monday night at the advice of his embassy. 


Mr Li himself has no plans to leave, having previously returned to Singapore for a year to continue his studies online because of COVID-19. 

"If I leave again, then it disrupts my studies and I don't want the same thing that happened two years ago to happen again ... you become so weary and I feel like maybe I don't need to freak out as much anymore," he said. 

The Singapore embassy in Moscow has been in direct contact and has always expressed its readiness to help, he added, recounting the aid the embassy provided in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Mr Li, who had to cancel plans to meet a friend in the city centre due to protests, said that he is avoiding going out. Even taking the metro makes him uneasy as there have been warnings of threats to public spaces.

He also shared that he feels overwhelmed by the speed at which things are moving and feels "uneasy" going to bed. 

"When I wake up, I don't know what to expect, what new information, what new news I need to catch up on so it's quite tiring in general."

Mr Jeremy Lim, a 32-year-old Singaporean who has been studying the Russian language in Moscow for about four months, is similarly worried about the ongoing situation. 

"I'm concerned about the situation and am following the news very closely. I have a lot on my mind," he said.

He was thankful for the small mercies like being able to use his Visa bank card up until Sunday but was unable to do so when he tried to pay for his lunch with the card on Monday. He ended up using cash.

While his family is "slightly concerned", Mr Lim said he is keeping them in the loop.

He added that the Singapore embassy in Moscow has advised Singaporeans to stay away from crowded areas, stay vigilant and monitor the news closely.

Over in St Petersburg, Mr Chiya Amos said there have been no changes to his daily life. The 31-year-old freelance conductor has lived in Russia for about 10 years.

While there's a banking panic to withdraw and sell Russian roubles for Euros and US Dollars, Mr Amos said he and his wife, who works as a lawyer, "understand the concepts of macroeconomics" and are "staying calm and assessing the situation". 

"We also have some assets and savings back home in Singapore so we are not too worried."

However, it can get "a little depressing" to see the rouble devalued, he said. 

"There's the pressing issue of the closure of airspace as I travel for work and research, but ... we are not panicking at the moment and trust that the conflict will be resolved."

Source: CNA/ja(zl)


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