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A Russian pacifist helped Ukrainians flee the country. Then the Kremlin caught him

www.theguardian.com A Russian pacifist helped Ukrainians flee the country. Then the Kremlin caught him

Alexander Demidenko, who guided refugees back to their homeland, was arrested and tortured by Kremlin forces. One of the many he helped recalls his courage and kindness

A Russian pacifist helped Ukrainians flee the country. Then the Kremlin caught him

Since the start of the war over two years ago, a discreet network of unofficial Russian volunteers like Demidenko has sprung up that have helped tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees displaced by the war to get out of Russia. Many of the Ukrainians were forcibly deported to Russia or ended up in the country after finding no safe way to travel west into Ukraine. The volunteers, often ordinary anti-war Russians looking for ways to express how they feel about the conflict, operate largely through word of mouth and groups on the Telegram messaging app.

On the drive to the border, Demi­denko distracted her “with anecdotes about life and history of the towns we passed,” Primak recalled. “It was something extraordinary. This man I have never met before made me feel at ease. His love of life was infectious.”

Upon reaching the border, the two bid farewell to each other. Demidenko gave his number, telling Primak her family was always welcome once the war was over. But Primak was never able to thank him for his help. Demidenko died last Friday in pre-detention custody in Belgorod where he had spent six months awaiting trial on charges of illegal gun possession, which his family and friends say were politically motivated as retribution for his volunteer efforts.

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