Russians, Ukrainians start 'helpline' for stranded tourists in Goa

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Panaji: Virutally enemies back home, a 'helpline' run by Russians, Ukrainians and foreigners from other Russian-speaking nations, is coming to the aid of international travellers stranded in Goa due to the lockdown, sorting out their food, medicine queries as well as advising frantic callers about visa-related issues.

The lockdown which has inevitably imposed tremendous hardships on stranded foreign populations, especially tourists, is forcing them to adapt to the realities of the COVID-19 global pandemic, including getting used to 'dal-chawal.'

The helpline anchored by Roman Naumov, who hails from Moscow, but is in Goa on a business visa, consists of Russians, Ukranians all working together through phone and social media communication apps like Whatsapp and Telegram.

"There about half a dozen of us. Russian, Ukrainians, all working together on Telegram channel, etc. People who are in need, they post seeking assistance and members of groups arrange for help," Naumov told IANS.

While food supply has somewhat regularised now, during the initial spell of chronic food shortage, several Russians had to make do with dal and rice, a sea change from their staple of bread and borscht back home.

"Russians have to adjust to eating dal and rice. What else could one doAat such a time, when there was not much available. At least there was his. This is a rare situation where people have no food, no money, no relatives, no friends," Naumov said, adding that food in India was still cheaper compared to Russia.

The helpline also informs tourists with little or less money about places where cooked food is being distributed by philantropists for free. Or people fund the helpline volunteers, so that food and medicine can be arranged in case of emergencies," Naumov further said, adding that the helpline over the period of the lockdown has attended to hundreds of pleas for help from Russian, Russian-speaking tourists from Commonwealth of Independent States countries and other foreign as well as Indian tourists, who were stranded in Goa.

Added to the worry now, says Anastasia Gritsay, who runs a dual language -- Russian and English -- publication 'Colours of Goa' is the price of the fare back home.

"A ticket by special flights to Russia is 400 Euros. There are many who are worried about this," she said. Especially those on a tight budget and some who have lost jobs back home due to the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic are getting anxious. The inability of most Russians to converse in English, the most commonly used foreign language in India, is also an obvious hurdle she says.

As far as the Goa government is concerned, according to Amit Satija, an Indian Administrative Service officer who has been appointed by the state government as the nodal officer for affairs related to foreign nationals in the state, while availability of flights remains an issue, more than 3000 foreigners have been repatriated to their respective countries.

"We have evacuated nearly 3,300 foreign nationals of different nationalities through 19 flights which have left via Goa. One of the main issues though has been availability of flights," Satija told IANS.

Goa is one of the most popular destination for foreign tourists, especially those from Russia and the United Kingdom.

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