Russians flee by boat to Alaska after Putin’s military mobilization

Two Russian nationals fleeing President Vladimir Putin’s call-up of military reservists landed by boat on a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea and are seeking asylum in the United States, the state’s two senators and U.S. government officials said Thursday.

The unusual incident highlights the lengths some Russians have gone to avoid a mobilization of up to 300,000 as Putin’s military, having suffered heavy losses in Ukraine, has made multiple retreats in recent weeks amid an aggressive offensive push by Ukrainian forces. An estimated 200,000 Russians have fled since the call-up.

The two appeared this week at a beach near Gambell, a tiny community on the northwest tip of St. Lawrence Island about 40 miles from mainland Russia, where they reported having fled “to avoid compulsory military service,” a spokesperson for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told the Associated Press.

Murkowski and fellow Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said the incident has exposed a need of greater security in the Arctic, where Russian military ships and aircraft have increasingly asserted their presence. Seven military vessels from Russia and China were spotted in the Bering Sea last month sailing in international waters.

“We are actively engaged with federal officials and residents in Gambell to determine who these individuals are, but right now, we already know that the federal response was lacking,” Murkowski said. “Only local officials and state law enforcement had the capability to immediately respond to the asylum seekers, while Customs and Border Protection had to dispatch a Coast Guard aircraft from over 750 miles away to get on scene.”

The Coast Guard referred questions to the Department of Homeland Security, which said the Russians were transported to Anchorage for processing.

Sullivan said in a statement that the incident made clear that “the Russian people don’t want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent answer to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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