Russian citizens Sergey and Maxim fled from mobilization in October 2022. They made a daring trip in a single-engine boat from Chukotka to Alaska and asked for asylum in the United States. They have now been released on bail. Voice of America.
The deposit was made by a Ukrainian priest in the city of Tacoma (Washington), who sponsored the Russians and provided them with housing. The Russians spent more than three months in a temporary detention center for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Tacoma.
Sergei and Maxim sailed to the United States from the village of Egvekinot, where about three thousand people live. Their route in a straight line was almost 300 nautical miles (more than 550 kilometers) and took five days at a temperature of about zero degrees Celsius.
The journey was dangerous. With changeable storms and low temperatures, the Bering Sea is one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world. The fugitives traveled along the coast of Chukotka, Russia's easternmost province (so remote that it is often cut off from world maps). The boys have weathered violent storms and somehow managed to avoid detection in a heavily militarized region of Russia. The Economist,.
Maxim and Sergey survived the storm and moored at the northwestern tip of the American island of St. Lawrence in Alaska. They were warmly welcomed by the locals, but soon the men were detained by the police.
History in brief
On September 26, there was a loud knock on Sergei's door. He already knew who it was without even answering. All residents of Egvekinot, a port city in the Russian Far East, have heard the same knock in recent days. The government called on men to take part in the war against Ukraine. Sergey, a thin man with big brown eyes and thick eyebrows, did not want to participate in this. When the knocking stopped and the sound of footsteps outside disappeared, he looked out the window and saw a man and a woman in green military uniforms getting into the car. Fear was deep in him.
He called his friend Maxim and asked him to come. He did not explain why - it was safer not to discuss these things over the phone - but Maxim guessed. He heard the same knock on his door this morning and saw through the peephole the same green shape. A friend didn't open either.
Sergei and Maxim have known each other since they were teenagers; their relationship was fueled over the years by a shared belief in the dishonesty of the Russian state. Both considered the war in Ukraine not just senseless, but evil. It was inconceivable that they would fight for a government they despised. When Maxim came to his senses, Sergei proposed a radical solution: to flee to Alaska by sailing across the Bering Sea on Maxim's fishing boat.
Sergey already had problems with the law. Maxim always kept his political views to himself, while Sergei never did. Everyone in Egvekinot knew what Sergei was thinking. A truck driver who owned his own transportation company, he spoke to the townspeople against state corruption by accusing government agencies of stealing money earmarked for road construction. When Russia invaded Ukraine, he caught teachers and librarians — civil servants tasked with distributing state propaganda — and questioned their justification for the war. He offered his own analysis: Russian President Vladimir Putin hoped that the conquest of Ukraine would strengthen his power.
In June last year, the police decided that Sergei had spoken enough. They pulled him out of the plane and held him for two days, interrogating him about his activities and alleged ties to Alexei Navalny. In August, the FSB, the internal security service that replaced the KGB, accused Sergei of extremism and ordered him not to leave Egvekinot without permission. It was then that he decided to run away. By the time of mobilization, the truth fighter had already tried to escape once: he decided to cross to Alaska on his own on a schooner, but he ran into a strong wind and was forced to turn back. The knock on the door was still in his head, and he decided to try again. Maxim agreed to go with him. In his opinion, he could either die in Ukraine or try to escape to America.
Maxim prepared the boat for a reckless journey: he stocked up on provisions - bread, sausage, eggs, tea, coffee, biscuits, cigarettes and fuel. Both completed their business, distributed property and, unable to change their rubles for dollars, transferred their savings to friends and relatives.
Finally, at 16:00 pm on September 29, they boarded Maxim's boat and set off.
While one taxied, the other followed. They clung to the coast of the Chukotka Peninsula. The landscape was familiar at first. These were the waters in which they grew up, in which Maxim fished almost every day. The sea was full of killer whales, walruses and whales. They spent their evenings on the shore, the first night with Maxim's relatives, and the second with Sergei's acquaintances. After that, they pitched their tents in the wild. When the guys were asked where they were going, they told the same story: they were looking for dead walruses to sell their tusks.
They were especially worried about the second half of the journey. Their route ran past cities teeming with border guards. They took precautions by turning off their phones so that their signals would not be received. But since their journey continued unhindered, they got the impression that the authorities were simply not paying attention to them. Sergei believes that it probably never occurred to senior management that someone would attempt such a journey.
Then came the storm. Sergei noticed that the ship was taking on water. The bilge pump was constantly buzzing. At some point, they were thrown between two walls of water. A few hours later they outran the storm and entered American waters. Finally, they were able to breathe again.
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The boys came ashore in the town of Gambell, and many people came to gawk at the strangers. At first, the locals, looking at 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 as they served pizza and juice. “Now you are safe.”
Their relief soon vanished. The Gambell police explained that it was their duty to take them into custody. The next day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials picked them up and placed them in Anchorage Jail for two nights and then in a detention center in Tacoma, Washington.
The illegals spent months in one large room with 70 other prisoners. They ate beans and rice, rice and beans; read all the Russian-language books that came to hand. The librarian delivered new books twice a month.
After more than three months in detention, they were both released on bail.
Now Maxim and Sergey are ready to start a new life in Alaska and hope that in a few months they will be able to work. Sergei wants to recycle plastic waste in Tacoma, while Maxim just wants to get his boat back.
Unlike Sergei and Maxim, most of the Russians fleeing the United States from the mobilization are trying to get to the United States in a more traditional way - through Mexico. In fiscal year 2022, US authorities cleared more than 21 Russians at the border, while in 000 - just over 2020. In October alone (when Sergei and Maxim arrived), more than 450 Russians arrived.