MINNEAPOLIS — One wintry day, a new Russian immigrant named Artem came to the Minnesota State Capitol to protest the war in Ukraine. Then a police siren sounded afar, and he grew fearful.
Was he really free, even in America?
Artem thought back to that day last summer in his Siberian hometown, when he ambled around the city square holding a sign against the Russia-Ukraine war. It was illegal in Russia to oppose the invasion, but Artem knew his future grandchildren would ask what he had done about it. “I wanted to tell them this is what I’ve done so my conscience would be clear,” he recalled through an interpreter. The Russian police came to arrest Artem, and he fled the country months later.
Now Artem is among a small but growing coterie of Russians who claimed asylum at the Mexican border and resettled in the Twin Cities as they wait for the courts to hear their cases. Custom and Border Patrol agents report encounters with Russians at the southern border jumped from 4,103 in fiscal year 2021 to 26,580 this year.
Longtime Russian American Elena Mityushina organized Russian anti-war protests at the State Capitol this year and was surprised to see newly arrived asylees like Artem, who didn’t want his last name published on the advice of his immigration attorney. Mityushina founded the group Russians Against War, and estimates there are at least 50 new Russian asylees in the Twin Cities — with more on the way.
Unlike Ukrainians escaping the war, Russians have no official program to sponsor them in the United States. Instead, they rely on a backlogged asylum system that leaves many in limbo for years, often to be rejected.
A Ukrainian’s path to the U.S. “is pretty straightforward — they get [legal] status right away and some sort of understanding of how long it’s going to take,” said Mityushina, who immigrated in 2000. Russians, by contrast, “are kind of in the air — they don’t know when their case is going to be, there’s no formal structure to support them. They’re just finding people on Facebook and Telegram and ad hoc like that.”
A video shows a Russian policeman approaching Artem, 45, as he holds an anti-war sign in a public square. Artem smiles courteously at the officer. Passers-by ignore them. Several more policemen come and lead Artem away.
What happened next wasn’t filmed.
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