Two Russian men who reportedly fled the country’s military mobilization drive have arrived at a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea and requested asylum in the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has been informed by village authorities about the men, is now handling the case.
The two men crossed the Bering Strait in a small boat and landed on the beach near the town of Gambell on the remote Alaska island of St. Lawrence Tuesday, The Guardian reported.
Gambell is an isolated Alaska Native community of about 600 people on St. Lawrence Island, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the western Alaska hub community of Nome and about 36 miles (58 kilometers) from the Chukotka Peninsula, Siberia.
A local media report quoting a town official said the men told villagers they’d sailed their boat from the city of Egvekinot in Northeastern Russia, approximately 300 miles by sea. According to a local resident, one of the men was European-looking and spoke English, while the other seemed to be of Siberian Yupik ethnicity. Villagers said the men told them they had been fleeing the Russian military.
“The individuals were transported to Anchorage for inspection, which includes a screening and vetting process, and then subsequently processed in accordance with applicable U.S. immigration laws under the Immigration and Nationality Act,” a spokesperson for the DHS said, according to The Guadian.
Alaska’s Governor Mike Dunleavy said Wednesday he was not expecting more individuals escaping Russia.
“These two individuals that came over from Russia in a boat and were detained in Gambell… my understanding is, they are in Anchorage now being dealt with by federal authorities,” he said, as per the outlet. “We don’t anticipate a continual stream of individuals or a flotilla of individuals. We have no indication that’s going to happen, so this may be a one-off.”
However, Alaska’s senator, Dan Sullivan (R), who claimed he had been alerted to the matter by a “senior community leader from the Bering Strait region,” said in a statement Thursday that he had encouraged federal authorities to have a plan in place in case “more Russians flee to Bering Strait communities in Alaska.”
“This incident makes two things clear: First, the Russian people don’t want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Sullivan said, according to BBC News. “Second, given Alaska’s proximity to Russia, our state has a vital role to play in securing America’s national security.”
Thousands of Russian men have fled since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization to bolster his country’s effort in Ukraine.