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Russians who fled mobilization and reached Alaska by dinghy allowed to stay in the US

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Two Russians who had reached St. Lawrence Island in Alaska by fishing boat to escape being mobilized into the army have been granted permission to stay in the US. Both men have been released after spending 3 months in custody and will be allowed to work in a few months, writes The Economist.

Here's how the publication describes the months the two Russians, Sergei and Maxim, spent in custody after illegally crossing the US border:

They spent months in one large room with 70 other detainees. They ate beans and rice and rice and beans, and read whatever Russian-language books they could get their hands on. Twice a month the librarian delivered new books. “That was a holiday,” said Sergei. They devoured the classics: Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy.

According to the publication, the Russians were released on bail, which was paid by a Ukrainian priest who also helped them with housing.

The Russians said they decided to escape after people in military uniform started knocking on the doors of their apartments. The officers had already asked one of them, Sergei, about his possible ties to Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation:

“They spent months in one large room with 70 other detainees. They ate beans and rice and rice and beans, and read whatever Russian-language books they could get their hands on. Twice a month the librarian delivered new books. “That was a holiday,” said Sergei. They devoured the classics: Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy.
Over the next three days, they made arrangements. It was more than 300 miles to their destination: the island of St Lawrence off the west coast of Alaska. Maksim readied the tiny boat for their foolhardy voyage. He stocked up with provisions – bread, sausages, eggs, tea, coffee, biscuits and packs of cigarettes – and fuel. Both wound down their affairs, giving away possessions and, unable to change their roubles into dollars, transferring their savings to friends and relatives.

Having weathered a storm and bypassed the border sentries, the Russians were able to enter US territorial waters:

They made landfall in the town of Gambell, and scores of people arrived to ogle the strangers. At first the locals, eyeing their camouflage jackets, wondered if they were Russian soldiers. They explained, via Google Translate, that they were seeking political asylum, and the crowd responded warmly. “Welcome to America,” they said, sharing out pizza and juice. “You’re safe now.”

Photograph: Eirik Johnson

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