Dissident Russian Band in Israel After Deportation From Thailand

A dissident Russian rock band opposed to Moscow’s actions in the war in Ukraine made their way to Israel following their deportation from Thailand, a move they believe was influenced by pressure from the Kremlin, the band members announced on Thursday.

At the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Bi-2’s guitarist and vocalist, Aleksandr “Shura” Uman, shared that despite being worn out from their difficult experience, the band is in good spirits.

He described the conditions they endured in a Thai prison as “horrible”. Uman expressed relief and determination to press on, stating, “We are free and we will keep moving forward”.

He extended gratitude to diplomats from Israel, the US, and Australia, alongside human rights groups, for their efforts in facilitating the band’s arrival in Israel. Supporters greeted them with welcoming signs at their early-morning arrival.

On Wednesday evening, Israel Katz, the Israeli Foreign Minister, lauded the diplomatic initiatives that allowed the musicians to travel from Thailand to Israel. A member of the band, who is an Israeli citizen, had arrived back earlier in the morning on the same day.

The spokesperson for the Thai Foreign Ministry, Kanchana Patarachoke, confirmed the band’s departure was in “accordance with their wishes and Thai immigration laws and regulations”.

Bi-2, a seven-member band, was detained in Phuket last week for allegedly performing without the correct visas, despite claiming their shows comply with local regulations. They were fined and taken to the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok.

According to Police Lieutenant Pakpoom Rojanawipak, five out of the seven members of Bi-2 used Russian passports to enter Thailand.

It is reported that at least four of these members hold Israeli citizenship, among them the band’s founders, Uman and Yegor “Lyova” Bortnik, with the latter also possessing Australian citizenship.

The band enjoys a significant online following, with over a million subscribers on YouTube and hundreds of thousands of monthly listeners on Spotify.

Despite Russia denying efforts to have the band deported, it’s known for suppressing dissenting artists, particularly those criticizing the war from abroad. The Kremlin had previously targeted Uman and Bortnik specifically.

Andrei Lugovoi, a lawmaker in the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament, labeled the band members as “scum” due to their condemnation of the conflict in Ukraine.

British authorities have accused Lugovoi in the fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who passed away in London in 2006 after consuming tea contaminated with radioactive polonium-210.

Human rights advocates have praised the decision to allow the band’s relocation to Israel, with Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson commending Bangkok for resisting Moscow’s demands, thereby protecting the artists from persecution in Russia.