The conflict in Ukraine has now displaced more than 1 million people from their homes, 814,000 of whom fled to Russia, according to the UNHCR United Nations refugee agency. Some Ukrainian refugees were lucky enough to be flown out by the Russian government, but their luck ended there. Many were delivered to no-man’s-land towns in Russia’s far east.
On Tuesday, a Russian planeload of 380 refugees deposited half of its passengers in Yakutsk, a northeastern town about 3,000 miles from Moscow that’s known as one of the coldest cities on earth. The remaining refugees were flown three hours further east and let off in Magadan, an isolated seaport that’s more than 1,000 miles away from the nearest city.
Moscow diplomat Ekaterina Swarovski noted in a tweet the ironies of Ukrainians taking refuge with their apparent enemies: “The first paradox of history: refugees fleeing from horrors don’t go deeper into their own country, but instead to the Russian Federation, which considers Ukraine an aggressor.”
Russia’s far east has been a popular destination over the last few days. Russian president Vladimir Putin himself landed in Yakutsk on Monday for a ground-breaking ceremony celebrating a projected $20.8 billion gas pipeline between Russia’s far east and China. He called it “the biggest construction project in the world.”
A travel blogger tweeted a candid shot of Putin as he arrived in Yakutsk:
Last week Putin said to an audience of young academics, “the Russians and the Ukrainians are one people.” Now, with thousands of Ukrainians seeking safe haven in the furthest reaches of Russia, it seems Putin would prefer those Ukrainians to remain far, far away from him and the Kremlin in Moscow.