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From Yakutsk to New York

Updated: Jan 12

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Alexander, I am 24 years old. I was born and raised in Yakutia and graduated from SVFU IZFiR. Thanks to my interest in Western culture, I started learning English in school. At the age of twenty, I opened a language school focusing on English, which steadily developed for almost three years.

Where were you on February 24, 2022?

On February 24, I was visiting relatives in Moscow. I couldn't believe what was happening when I watched the morning news. My initial reaction was disbelief: there couldn't be a real, large-scale war in the twenty-first century. But the news continued to get worse every day.

Departure to Kazakhstan.

By the end of February, I had managed to buy tickets to Kazakhstan at affordable prices and flew to Astana on March 4, 2022. I was terrified that Russian security forces would stop me at the airport and check all social messengers and my gallery for opposition materials or any dissent – for example, whether I subscribed to "Meduza". So, I preemptively deleted all apps and cleared my phone to avoid any questions from the authorities. Fortunately, I was able to leave Russia without any issues.


In Kazakhstan, I enrolled in a master's program at KIMEP (a private university founded in 1992 in Almaty) in the fall. After studying at the university until the end of the academic year, I decided to fly to Korea – I had to sell my laptop to buy tickets. In Korea, I worked on installing and assembling solar panels on an island, where I was paid $105 daily. After two months, I was very tired and decided to move on. I spent a month in Thailand, then in Vietnam, and from Japan, my journey to the States began.

Crossing the Mexico - USA Border (Mexico City-Tijuana)

A CBP (Customs and Border Protection) program allows people, while in Mexico, to get legal permission to enter the USA. You have to catch the date, which takes about three months on average, and it's a long period to stay in the country. My stamp for visiting in Mexico was issued for fifteen days.

My journey to Mexico started from South Korea, where I bought tickets for September 12, 2023, with a layover in Japan. In Seoul, at registration, they asked for return tickets and an electronic entry permit to Mexico. Until the flight, I had heard that people were turned away even in the country of departure, so my main priority was to prepare all the documents to be allowed on the flight. On the flight from Japan to Mexico, I didn't notice any Russian speakers, but upon arrival in Mexico City, I met several compatriots. I even met two families from Yakutia who were in line at the US border; they had already received a date and were waiting for an officer to invite them.

Did you realize that if you cross the border in this way (Alexander climbed over the fence, editor's note), you might be denied political asylum or the case review might take much longer than for others?

I ran out of money, and the situation in Mexico with street safety was unfavorable. Therefore, I decided to cross the border at any cost. Of course, I do not encourage anyone to do this under any circumstances. For me, it was more of a forced measure that seemed like the only way out at the time. Moreover, in the official CBP program, by the time of my crossing, there was already discrimination against Russian citizens, especially single men. There were many single men, and all of them were detained in a real prison for an indefinite period. Perhaps they will wait in jail for a trial for several months or go through a fear interview, but in some cases, they can be pulled out with the help of a lawyer, or through bail.

It should be noted that such a crossing does not grant me political asylum, only the opportunity to apply for it while in the USA. Whether it will be approved or denied is unknown until the end of the trial, but we still hope for a positive outcome, as there is a justified fear and possible persecution in the future.

What was it like?

I arrived at the fence at noon, located near the main beach in Tijuana. There were repair works being done on the wall, and throughout the day, the area was guarded by military personnel who patrolled the area with automatic weapons. By evening, people from various ethnic groups began to gather at the fence, and they all started to climb the wall. I decided that I also needed to act and climbed over two three-meter fences. When I got to the other side, a US Border Patrol officer immediately approached me and asked, “Do you speak English?”. It turned out that most of those who climbed over did not understand English at all. In this aspect, it was easier for me. The officer then pointed to the gates at the hills, where we were to wait until ten in the morning. Throughout the night, officers came twice and took families with them; they were immediately taken to the border detention center without waiting. Single men had to light a fire and sleep on the cold ground. All night people kept crossing the wall, and by morning, there seemed to be enough people for about five minibusses. In the morning, Border Patrol officers arrived, lined everyone up, and began the process of identity verification while simultaneously entering data into the database. In the border detention center, they took fingerprints, measured height and weight, took a swab from the mucous membrane, and photographed us.

Staying at the Border Detention.

The border detention facility, or "border", is not exactly a prison. It's more like a "monkey house". In one cell, they hold about 70 people. Everyone waits for their name to be called, which happens randomly within 24 hours. We were fed a small sandwich and a simple burger.

There is a second border detention after the first one. The second border is much smaller in size, and there, 15 people lie on gym mats with foil blankets. There are no windows or clocks on the walls. The toilet is in the same cell for everyone, with a barrel above it, and there's a sink for drinking water. The bright light never turns off. Due to the conditions, over time you start to break down psychologically. You lose track of days and time.

How do you keep in touch with fellow countrymen who crossed the border?

There are more and more of our countrymen in the USA. To keep in touch, there are groups on WhatsApp, Telegram. There are adaptation instructions, which are very convenient, and all the guides to make life easier for new migrants.

About New York.

I am currently in New York, arrived here without any money, in only the clothes I was wearing. Fortunately, friends met me and have been supporting me in every way. I settled in a shelter (or homeless shelter) with three meals a day in a gym with a total of four hundred people living there.

I found a job in ten days – I got a job as a packer in a grocery store.

Those Who Returned. Many who left after the start of the war and mobilization have returned. Did you have similar thoughts of returning, and why did you decide to go to America anyway?

I haven't been in Yakutsk for a year, and all this time the military recruitment office has been looking for me. The staff sent letters to my previous address and came to relatives' homes, asking questions, and even called colleagues from the language school inquiring about my whereabouts.

I think the military recruitment office urgently needs to send a large number of boys from Yakutia to the war. Perhaps they won't be sent directly to the front, but most likely to the "new regions of Russia" or Crimea, where shelling by the Ukrainian Armed Forces regularly occurs. I am scared, I am human and it is absolutely normal to fear war and avoid death. Many people have already died and I am very sorry that this is happening.

Before February 24, 2022, what were your political views?

My political views have been oppositional since I was 18. Six years ago, in the Russian presidential elections, my personal vote was for the candidate Grudinin from the CPRF, and in the last election, I voted for the "Yabloko" party in the State Duma.

I posted a photo on my social networks with the slogan "Russia is not Putin". I think Putin's policy is aimed at creating favorable conditions for the power vertical, to suppress any dissent and opposition leaders using force structures. Putin's policy is directed towards war in Ukraine and the destruction of the homeland, which spends a huge budget on military actions every day. In a year and a half, 167 billion dollars have already been spent on the war. Instead of really creating a competitive environment in Russia and developing regions, the authorities are doing the exact opposite.

In Yakutia, in my 23 years, there have never been such terrible fires. The fire in Yakutia is not only about the destruction of the ecology and the beautiful Yakut nature along with wild animals, the fire is a symbol of corruption in our region.

Attitude to the War.

I am against this war. The Russian government is not just conducting military operations in Ukraine, but is also committing war crimes against Ukrainians, innocent civilians, killing blameless elderly people and children. Each of them had or has their families, homes, dreams, hopes – and all of this was crossed out by Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Future Plans.

I consulted in the shelter, and they told me that I could enroll in a university and start studying for a master's degree as early as January. The state will pay for my education under a special program. So, my main plan is to get into university.

Message to Fellow Countrymen.

In reality, there are many options for legalization in the USA, and the journey to the final destination can be absolutely different. So, if you want to move or truly need political asylum, it is worth it. America is a land of opportunities, and I advise you to seize this opportunity while it exists!

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