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Russian couple who protested against war in Ukraine claim asylum in UK

A protester holds a 'Welcome All Refugees' placard. Thousands of people gathered in Trafalgar Square

‘We would never have forgiven ourselves if we had stayed silent,’ they said

A Russian couple who staged a solitary protest against their government’s invasion of Ukraine is thought to be among the first to have claimed asylum in the UK since the war started.

The couple, Anya and Igor (changed names), both 28, who cannot be identified because of the risk to themselves and to their families in Russia, protested with anti-war placards saying: “No to Russian aggression in Ukraine. No to war,” in the main square of their home town in the south of Russia on 24 February, the day Russia invaded its neighbour.

They said that most people in the town are supportive of Vladimir Putin and of the Russian invasion. One other woman in the town staged a lone protest earlier the same day and was arrested.

“When I protested an old lady walked past and said: ‘You are crazy, you need to change your position,’” said Anya.

Anya made a donation of €50 (£42) to an organisation providing humanitarian aid to Ukrainians. She was later horrified to discover that Russia had passed a new law making this kind of donation a criminal offence.

“Every hour new laws are passed now in Russia,” she said. “We call them ‘crazy printer’ laws because there are so many of them,” said Anya.

Last year, never believing that rumours of war would translate into reality, they applied for and obtained visitor visas to see their friends in the UK.

After deciding that they had to flee Russia they escaped to Armenia and then Georgia although they were “intensely” questioned at the border by Russian officials about where they were going and for how long.

They then were able to get a flight from Georgia via Turkey to the UK.

“We arrived at Stansted Airport and claimed asylum immediately. The Border Force officials seemed surprised to see us. I think we were the first Russians they had seen who had reached UK and claimed asylum since the war started. Russians who want to escape are going to countries like Georgia and Turkey. It’s very difficult for them to reach the UK.”

Igor said that Russians have been bombarded with propaganda by the government for the past eight years since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

“Russians value comfort over freedom. Maybe when there is no food left in the fridge they will start to wake up to what is going on. Now in Russia we have what we call ‘desugarisation’ because it is hard to get hold of sugar,” said Anya.

"It’s hard to comprehend what is going on inside Putin’s head but I think he has always been the way he is now. Before he had a mask on but now he can’t be bothered to wear it any more,” she added.


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