Village leaders on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska notified the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday that two foreign nationals had landed near the community of Gambell, on the far western side of the island. The men arrived in what was described as a small boat.
The village of Gambell, with a population 495, is located on the northwest cape of the island, some 36 miles from the Chukchi Peninsula in the Russian Far East, and Russia can be seen from cape. The island closer to Russia than it is to the Alaskan mainland.
The men are likely to be Russian men escaping their country during a time of war. Russia President Vladimir Putin has put out the orders for men under the age of 65 to report to the Russian military to take part in the invasion of Ukraine, and hundreds of thousands of Russian men are now leaving, as the Kremlin is trying to conscript 300,000 Russians as soldiers.
The U.S. Coast Guard released a statement saying the men are being detained in the village detention facility, but did not yet reveal the nationality of the men.
A spokesperson from Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office said the senator had been contacted by a senior community leader from St. Lawrence Island on Tuesday. Sen. Sullivan called the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and spoke to him and another senior DHS official.
“Since those calls, Customs and Border Protection is responding and going through the process to determine the admissibility of these individuals to enter the United States,” his office said.
International news agencies say that the Kremlin is opening military enlistment offices near Russia’s borders in an effort to intercept fleeing Russian men of fighting age. A draft office opened at the Ozinki checkpoint on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, and another set to open in the Astrakhan region, also on the border with Kazakhstan. So far, news reports say that over 194,000 Russian citizens have fled by car, bicycle or on foot to neighboring Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Finland in an exodus that began the third week of September. More are fleeing to European countries that are loosening the visa restrictions so the men can find safety.
“The mass exodus comes at a time when Russian troops are already deeply demoralized and facing heavy losses on the battlefront in Ukraine. These losses have caused Russia’s advancements in Ukraine to come to a grinding halt, thus the Russian Minister of Defense has called upon 300,000 men to join the Russian Armed Forces,” according to the Warsaw Institute.
“The mobilization has wreaked havoc amongst many Russians. Large numbers of fighting aged men are now seeking to exit Russia swiftly to avoid being sent to the Ukrainian frontline. Neighboring states such as Kazakhstan, Georgia, Finland, and Armenia have seen a drastic increase in Russian citizens attempting to cross the border. Following the mobilization order from the Kremlin, nearly 200,000 Russians have exited Russia. Georgia’s interior minister announced that nearly 53,000 Russians have crossed the Russo-Georgian border since September 21st, 2022. Additionally, the government of Kazakhstan has reported nearly 98,000 Russians have crossed the border since the announcement of the mobilization,” the Institute writes.
“The influx of Russian citizens has prompted various responses from neighboring governments. The President of Kazakhstan, Kassym‑Jomart Tokayev, said in a statement regarding the exodus of Russians that they, ‘are forced to leave because of the current hopeless situation. We must take care of them and ensure their safety.’ Kazakh law stipulates that Russian passport holders can remain in Kazakhstan visa-free for a period of 30 days, and any longer stays must be registered. However, other countries have been less welcoming of this new rush of Russian passport holders. The government of Finland recently passed a resolution severely limiting the arrival of Russian passport holders arriving with Schengen tourist visas with limited exceptions. Many Baltic nations have also imposed strict regulations regarding the admittance of Russian passport holders into their countries. The Latvian foreign minister said humanitarian or other visa types would not be issued to Russian citizens seeking to avoid the recently announced military mobilization.”
For such reasons, it’s entirely possible that some men in Russia’s Far East are looking for a boat that will take them to America before the winter storms become a hazard.
This story will be updated.
Update: According to the governor’s office, the two Russians have been transported to Anchorage by a Coast Guard cargo plane, and they’re now in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.