ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Two native Russian Siberians were so afraid of having to fight the war in Ukraine that they risked everything to take a small boat across the dangerous Bering Sea to reach American soil, the U.S. senator said. of Alaska after speaking with the two.
The pair, identified as male by a resident, landed earlier this month near Gambell on Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait, where they claimed asylum.
“They feared for their lives because of Russia, which is targeting minority populations, for conscription into service in Ukraine,” Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski said on Saturday at a forum of candidates at the Federation of Nations Conference. Alaska Natives in Anchorage.
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“It’s very clear to me that these individuals were scared, so scared of their own government that they risked their lives and took a 15-foot canoe through these open waters,” Murkowski said when responding to a question about Arctic policy.
“It is clear that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is focused on military conquest at the expense of his own people,” Murkowski said. “He has one hand on Ukraine and he has the other on the Arctic, so we have to keep our eyes wide open on the Arctic.”
Murkowski said he met the two Siberians recently, but did not provide further details on the exact time and place of the meeting or the status of their asylum procedure. She was not available after the forum for follow-up questions.
Murkowski’s office announced his asylum request on October 6, saying the men had fled one of the coastal communities on Russia’s east coast.
Gambell Village elder Bruce Boolowon, 87, is believed to be the last living member of the Alaska National Guard to help rescue 11 U.S. Navy men who were in a plane shot down by Russian MIGs over- over the Bering Sea in 1955. The plane crashed on St. Lawrence Island.
Gambell, an Alaska Native community of about 600 people, is about 58 kilometers from Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula in Siberia.
Although one of the Russians spoke fairly good English, two Russian-born women from Gambell were brought in to translate. Both women married local men and became naturalized US citizens, said Boolowon, who is Yupik from Siberia.
Russian landings at Gambell during the Cold War were commonplace, but the visits were not harmful, Boolowon said. Since St. Lawrence Island is so close to Russia, people regularly traveled back and forth to visit relatives.
But these two asylum seekers were unknown to the inhabitants of Gambell.
“They were foreigners and didn’t have passports, so they put them in jail,” he told The Associated Press last week.
The two men spent the night in the jail, but residents of Gambell brought them food, both Alaskan Native dishes and items purchased from a grocery store.
“They were quite comprehensive; they ate a lot,” Boolowon said.
“The next day a Coastguard C-130 accompanied by officials came to pick them up,” he said, adding that was the last he heard of the Russians.
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Since then, those responsible have remained discreet.
“The individuals were transported to Anchorage for inspection, which includes a screening and vetting process, and then processed in accordance with applicable United States immigration laws under the Immigration and Nationality Act,” said one. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson in an email. last week when asked for an update on the asylum process and if and where the men were being held.
Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer in Anchorage, said it was highly unlikely that any information about the Russians would ever be released.
“The US government is supposed to keep this all confidential, so I don’t know why they would tell anyone anything,” she told the AP.
Instead, it would be up to the two Russians to publicize their situation, which could endanger their families in Russia. “I don’t know why they would want to do that,” Stock said.
Thousands of Russian men have fled the country after Putin in September announced a mobilization to call up around 300,000 men with past military experience to bolster forces in Ukraine.
Messages sent last week and again on Saturday to the Russian consular office in San Francisco were not returned.