Stuck on the Mexican border, anti-war Russians sweat their future while Ukrainians enter the US

FILE PHOTO: Russians wait for humanitarian visas at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on the US-Mexico border in Tijuana
FILE PHOTO: A Russian couple hug while waiting for a humanitarian visa at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico March 15, 2022. Picture taken March 15, 2022. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes/File Photo

March 19, 2022

By Daina Beth Solomon

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Russians attempting to enter the United States at the Mexican border are frustrated they are not entering like Ukrainians, even though they left their homes because of the invasion of Ukraine.

US officials let dozens of Ukrainians through this week, but the Russians remain in limbo, prompting some to camp on the sidewalk next to a barbed-wire border fence and defy warnings from Mexican authorities to leave the country.

Irina Zolkina, a math teacher who left Moscow with her four children and her daughter’s boyfriend, broke down in tears when a US border guard took one look at her stack of Russian passports on Thursday and shook his head and said they had to wait — soon after officials ushered in six Ukrainian men.

“There are so many years of fear that we live in… it’s terrible in Russia too,” she told Reuters in the Mexican border town of Tijuana, across from San Diego, California.

Zolkina showed Reuters BBC video of her arrest for taking part in an anti-war protest on February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” that Western allies have denounced.

She was released a few hours later and left Russia with her children the following week, she said, crossing through Tashkent and Istanbul before reaching the Mexican seaside resort of Cancun — a common starting point for Russians en route to the US border.

Over 3 million Ukrainians have become refugees, according to the United Nations, most of them in countries bordering Ukraine. According to media reports, thousands of Russians have also left their country.

Some Ukrainians crossing Tijuana have been granted permission to reside in the United States for a year.

When asked about Ukrainians and Russians at the border on Thursday, US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the government is helping people fleeing Ukraine and is considering other programs to expand humanitarian assistance.

The US-Mexico border has been closed to most asylum seekers as part of a coronavirus pandemic policy.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman, when asked about current policy toward Russians, said the agency makes exceptions to the order for “high-risk individuals” on a case-by-case basis.


A few dozen other Russians have wrapped themselves in thick blankets for several days to sleep yards from the border wall, hoping US officials will hear their pleas for protection.

“It’s unfair that we can’t get in,” said Mark, 32, a restaurant manager who came with his wife from Moscow and flew to Mexico via Turkey and Germany in early March.

Both were arrested for three days last year after protesting in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said Mark, who asked for his last name to be withheld. He said returning to Russia is not an option after new laws provide for up to 15 years in prison for acts discrediting the Russian army.

“This is our decision to be here and wait on the floor,” said Mark, who sat on a blanket and watched hundreds of tourists and US citizens move into San Diego. “If we leave this place, everyone will immediately forget this problem.”

Between October 2021 and January, US government data showed border officials encountered about 6,400 Russians, some who said they were dissidents and are now in the United States. The Russian embassy said in a statement at the time that it had contacted the US authorities about these citizens.

Last week, Mexican officials in Tijuana distributed flyers in Russian listing nearby migrant shelters and a letter saying Russians can apply for asylum but should not camp at the busy border.

Staying there carries “the risk that the United States may decide to close the crossing for internal security reasons,” the letter, signed by Tijuana Migration Director Enrique Lucero, said.

The Mexican Migration Institute did not respond to a request for comment.

The Russians stand still for the time being.

Mikhail Shliachkov, 35, sat on a bunk under an umbrella to protect himself from the glare of the sun and said he decided to go to Mexico with his wife the day after the invasion because he feared he would fight near To be called up relatives in Ukraine.

“I don’t want to kill my brothers, you know?” he said, showing a photo of his birth certificate, showing his mother was born in Ukraine.

While the Russians wait, US border officials have also turned away asylum seekers from Nigeria, Colombia, Honduras and Mexico, sparking complaints of unfair treatment.

“There is an element of racism by the US authorities,” said Kevin Salgado, 19, a Mexican from the violent state of Michoacan, where he said his father and 16-year-old brother, both members of a community police force, were killed.

“Why are they letting the Ukrainians pass? … Can someone explain that to us?”

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Additional reporting by Dave Graham and Ted Hesson; Editing by Grant McCool) Stuck on the Mexican border, anti-war Russians sweat their future while Ukrainians enter the US

Bobby Allyn

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