Russia's 'Putin mask' protester seeks asylum in Ukraine

Roman Roslovtsev, wearing a rubber mask depicting President Vladimir Putin, poses for a picture in central Moscow on May 12, 2016.
Roman Roslovtsev, wearing a rubber mask depicting President Vladimir Putin, poses for a picture in central Moscow on May 12, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

KIEV (AFP) - A Russian man who was repeatedly arrested for donning masks of President Vladimir Putin in anti-Kremlin pickets has crossed into Ukraine and is seeking political asylum.

Mr Roman Roslovtsev has spent weeks in detention for putting on an unflattering rubber caricature of the Russian leader's face during protests against what critics call Mr Putin's suppression of free speech and basic human rights.

The Ukrainian border guard service said the 36-year-old entered Ukraine on Sunday (Aug 22) and will formally seek political asylum on Monday.

Mr Roslovtsev has reportedly been arrested on 11 occasions and has claimed that he was being hounded by Russia's FSB security service that Mr Putin headed between 1998 and 1999.

He told Kiev's Hromadske.ua news site on Sunday (Aug 21) that he would like to join the Ukrainian army and fight pro-Kremlin rebels in the separatist east that Mr Putin has denied backing during a 28-month conflict which has claimed more than 9,500 lives.

"I would like to join the army, the National Guard or any of the volunteer battalions," Roslovtsev was quoted as saying.

"For me, the most important thing is to continue my battle against the Putin regime."

The Ukrainian authorities said the migration service in Kiev was currently considering Mr Roslovtsev's case.

Mr Roslovtsev is a former accountant who studied religion prior to joining the protest movement. He had previously told AFP that he intended to get a prison sentence for his "Putin mask" performances in order to make a statement against laws targeting peaceful protesters.

Ex-Soviet Ukraine pulled out of Russia's orbit in its February 2014 pro-EU revolution that was followed a few weeks later by the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea and the onset of the devastating insurgency in Ukraine's industrial east.

Ukraine has since set the goal of applying for EU membership by 2020 and even one day joining the Nato military alliance - two decisions that have further strained its ties with Moscow.

Ukraine has been beset by problems such as corruption and economic depression since breaking from its giant eastern neighbour.

But it is also increasingly seen as a beacon of freedom by Russians who oppose Putin's rule.

Ukraine had earlier this month granted asylum to another Russian who feared retribution from the Kremlin authorities for his repeated criticism of Putin.

Mr Vladimir Ionov - a 76-year-old opposition activist who was reportedly the first person charged under Russia's strict new anti-protest law - told Hromadske.ua on Aug 15 that his asylum request has been granted.