Alaska in Brief

Russian asylum seekers who boated to Alaska island are Indigenous, Murkowski says

By: - October 24, 2022 5:00 am
A hillside view of Gambell, one of the two communities on St. Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea, is seen in 2005. Two Indigenous men sailed from Russia's Chuktoka region, arriving in Gambell in early October. Upon arrival, they asked for asylum. (Photo provided by the Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs)

A hillside view of Gambell, one of the two communities on St. Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea, is seen in 2005. Two Indigenous men sailed from Russia’s Chuktoka region, arriving in Gambell in early October. Upon arrival, they asked for asylum. (Photo provided by the Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Saturday provided some details about the two asylum seekers who traveled from the Russian Far East to Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island earlier this month to avoid being conscripted into the nation’s military. The two men are Indigenous Siberians, and they said Putin’s government is targeting ethnic minorities in rural areas, like themselves, to fight in Ukraine.

They were “so much in fear of their own government that they risked their lives and took a 15-foot skiff across those open waters. That says a lot,” she said. “It is clear that Putin is focused on a military conquest at the expense of his own people. He’s got one hand on Ukraine, and he’s got the other on the Arctic. So we have to be eyes-wide-open on the Arctic.”

Murkowski raised the topic of the asylum seekers during the forum for U.S. Senate candidates during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. She talked about them while highlighting the importance of security in the Arctic region.

In an interview later in the day, Murkowski said she had spent about 45 minutes with the two Russians in Anchorage, where they had been sent after arriving at Gambell, a village on St. Lawrence Island. She spoke with them through and interpreter. Then two have since been taken to the Lower 48.

Murkowski said the two are from a coastal community in the general area of Provideniya, a city in Chukotka, the peninsula closest to Alaska.

 Provideniya is about 230 miles west of Nome. Indigenous groups in Chukotka include the Chukchi and the Inuit.

The men’s exact identities and locations were being kept confidential for the men’s safety, she said.

“They shared with me that Putin has been targeting rural communities that are minority populations, that are Indigenous populations,” Murkowski said. 

That account is consistent with other reports from Russia, she said.

Elsewhere in that country, there have been reports of Tatars, Buryats and Tuvans being targeted for conscription.

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Yereth Rosen
Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns -- subjects with a lot of overlap. In her free time, she likes to ski and watch her son's hockey games.

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