War weary and wary

War weary and wary

Saturday marks two years since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Life speaks with two Russian expats about how their world has changed

War weary and wary
Anastasia Maslova, left, and Olga Novoselova. (Photo: Mark Fiddian www.markfiddian.com)

For over two years, world news was dominated by disclosures and information about Covid, and the measures we needed to undertake to keep ourselves safe from infection. But that all changed on Feb 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine and set about an egregious war against a non-aggressive country.

Since that day, the conflict in Eastern Europe has been the predominant feature in the headlines of newspapers around the globe. And more recently, the news that has joined it is the war between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East which began in late 2023.

The invasion of Ukraine set into motion a long and enduring war that even influential people in Russia are now saying was pointless, ill-advised and with consequences that are damaging to both Russia and the rest of the world. Already flimsy economies and equally fragile fiscal recoveries after the pandemic were threatened anew by the escalating and deleterious effects Putin's war was continuing to have.

In 2019, Thailand welcomed close to 40 million international visitors, and Russian travellers came in at fourth place. The Russian market remains important to Thailand. The UN World Tourism Organization has forecast that tourism figures in 2024 should largely rebound to pre-Covid levels.

A number of Russian tourists in Bangkok and Pattaya are not actually looking forward to going back to their own country. They say that the misinformation or fake news put out by the Kremlin fools them no longer. Many of them are as much in condemnation of Putin's war as is the rest of the free world.

Things in 2024 have stabilised, and Russian people who no longer feel happy in their own country, or are worried about being called up to fight in the war, are arriving in Thailand all the time. The Tourism Authority of Thailand estimates there are currently about half-a-million Russians in Thailand. Russians are also the largest group of foreigners buying property in Thailand. Mostly in Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya.

To mark almost two years of the Russia-Ukraine war, Anastasia Maslova and Olga Novoselova -- two Russians who work in modelling, movies and fashion in Thailand -- discuss the ongoing conflict.

Russians and Ukraianians gather in Bangkok in February last year to protest the war.

How and why did you first come to work in Thailand?

Anastasia: I have always enjoyed travelling, and Thailand always felt like home, right from the beginning. I remember how on the very first day of my first trip to Thailand, I immediately fell in love. It is a place where I feel that I am a child of the universe, that anything can be achieved. I have discovered many things about myself and the world, I have learned to prioritise happiness and inspiration, and to listen to my intuition. Moving to Thailand was one of the best decisions in my life.

Olga: Before Thailand I lived in the USA, in Maryland, for about two years. I was on a student exchange programme and I gained a lot of useful experience in different kinds of jobs, like the ins and outs of the hotel industry, clothing boutiques, and the chocolate business too! But it was way risky to stay in that type of work for very long… much too easy to put on the kilos for someone who loves chocolate and sweet things as much as I do!

I started to travel further afield, and came with some friends to Thailand, which we immediately felt was the sort of place we had all been looking for. We opened a Russian food restaurant and hotel, which I managed for six years. At the same time I had started modelling and acting in Bangkok. I was shooting for international movies, cosmetics brands, fashion TV, and was a cover model for the Milan-based magazine Adversus.

How did you meet each other, and do you ever work together?

Anastasia: I have met lots of inspiring, creative, amazing people over the years of my life of art and culture in Thailand, and some of these gorgeous people have become my beloved friends and family of choice.

Olga and myself met at a video shoot for a restaurant, and we have become inseparable ever since.

Olga: At one of the many shoots I went to I met Anastasia, who has become a true and dear friend. We have done a lot of shoots together, and have even switched with each other at them. She is a person I can absolutely trust and rely on, and we have an amazing time together, at work or at play.

Do you sometimes meet tourists or other people from Russia?

Anastasia: My friend, talented, bright, kind-hearted fashion photographer Max Martin, moved back to Kiev a couple of years ago, and is now involved in helping out with informational and humanitarian services. It all breaks my heart -- he should be shooting at international fashion weeks, not sheltering and sleeping in a bomb shelter.

Olga: During the two years after the pandemic began, there were not as many Russian people in Thailand as there were before. But Russian people like travelling to Thailand as it's warm all year round, offers great massages, fresh tropical fruits, sunshine, the best beaches in the world and warm seas. Russian tourists are now coming back, and once more account for a significant number of tourist arrivals to Thailand.

Has Putin's war created any problems for you in work, or personal or financial matters?

Anastasia: It's still illegal in Russia to call it a war, even though we all know it is. Despite the fake news that state controlled media puts out, the people know. Thousands have been arrested at protests against the invasion of Ukraine and the indiscriminate shelling of the country. And thousands of people, especially the younger generation, have been leaving Russia since the early days of the war.

Olga: Of course, nobody, least of all the Russian people, really expected or believed this would happen. I was actually in Russia when it all started. I believed it wouldn't last long. And of course, we didn't expect all the sanctions and consequences. I had to close my restaurant business here in Thailand, as it was for Russian holidaymakers. They had started to return after the pandemic, but then the war came along and Russian visitors once more slowed to a trickle. It has not been at all good for my finances. But I certainly feel that I'm better off here.

What would you wish to happen with Putin's war? What would be the best way out of it for Ukraine and Russia?

Anastasia: I don't think there can be any 'best way out of it', unless you have a time-travelling machine and can go back to the past and prevent all this destruction and sadness from ever having happened in the first place.

Olga: One can never adjust to death, poverty and war, and that's why I feel so sorry for every single Russian and Ukrainian person. I think the aftermath of the war, when it finally ends, will have a huge impact upon the whole world, not only economically and politically, but psychologically as well.

I always try to stay positive and believe in good… positive thoughts attract positive things and we all need to have hope.

I do believe that one day this will all come to an end, and people from my part of the world can enjoy their lives again, have their freedom to travel, and be happy.

Because nothing, even the most terrible or painful things and situations, lasts forever.

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