Inactive cards hit Ukrainians

Inactive cards hit Ukrainians

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When Visa and Mastercard announced Saturday that they would suspend operations in Russia, the first people to feel the impact were Russians fleeing the country because they opposed the war in Ukraine.

The American payment processors said bank cards issued in Russia would no longer work abroad, while cards with the companies’ logos on them were expected to continue working inside the country because a local processor handles those transactions.

That meant that the many journalists, activists and others who fled Russia in recent days because they feared conscription or prosecution would lose access to their Russian bank accounts. Wealthy Russians were less affected because they were more likely to have bank accounts abroad.

“This won’t hurt Putin at all,” said Farida Rustamova, a Russian journalist who has worked for outlets that are now blocked inside Russia, Meduza and TV Rain. “He’s been dreaming about us leaving him alone — and now we’ll be abroad without any money.”

Rustamova said she had been on vacation when the war began and decided not to return. On Sunday, she said, she and her partner were “in panic” upon hearing the news of the decisions by Mastercard and Visa, and dashed from ATM to ATM to remove as much cash from their bank accounts — already devalued by the plunge in the ruble — as they could while their cards were still working.

Al Kelly, Visa’s chief executive officer, said in a statement Saturday that the company was “compelled to act following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” even as it regretted “the impact this will have on our valued colleagues, and on the clients, partners, merchants and cardholders we serve in Russia.” Mastercard said it made its decision after considering “what would be most important to support the continued availability of services, if possible, to impacted people in the region.”

The companies did not respond to requests for comment Sunday about what their decisions would mean for fleeing Russians. But numerous Russians opposed to Putin who have scattered around the world in recent days told similar stories about scrambling to access funds.

“They’re trapped,” said Daria, a mobile developer who moved last year to Tbilisi, Georgia, describing fleeing Russians just arriving there. “They can’t go back and they can’t afford to stay.”

Inna, a copywriter from Moscow who, like Daria, asked that her last name be withheld for security reasons, was on vacation when the war began. She and her husband decided to remain in Turkey as rumors spread that the Kremlin could close the borders to men of military age before a possible draft. They had been stockpiling cash from ATMs, but by Sunday, their cards had stopped working.

“They’re left with the minimum,” she said, describing newly arrived Russians she saw trying to access cash. “In the best case, they have a hotel booked for a few days.”

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