By Tom Balmforth and Parniyan Zemaryalai
KYIV (Reuters) – A former senior executive at Russian lender Gazprombank said on Thursday he had fled Russia for Ukraine hoping to take up arms against invading Moscow and believed President Vladimir Putin was leading Russia to disaster.
Igor Volobuev, 50, who holds a Russian passport and was until recently deputy chairman of Gazprombank, told Reuters in an interview in the capital Kyiv that he was pushed to act because of his roots and of his Ukrainian family.
The public defection is extraordinary because of his leading role in a company that is at the heart of the Russian establishment and is chaired by Alexei Miller, the CEO of gas giant Gazprom, who is a close ally of Putin.
It also illustrates the close knitting of family ties between the two countries.
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Volobuev was born in Okhtyrka, in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine, where Russian forces poured in in late February.
“I came here to defend my homeland because the war started (in places) like my home town of Okhtyrka – it was one of the first towns to be bombed,” he said.
He arrived in Ukraine on March 2 and declared at the border that he wanted to join the Ukrainian territorial defense force, he said.
“They said no, but maybe I can find a way. I hope (I can),” he said. “They said we had enough of our own (people) with military experience.”
He declined to elaborate on how he left Russia and managed to get to kyiv. Checkpoints were set up across Ukraine during the war and it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to move around easily with Russian documents.
Volobuev gave his interview in Independence Square, the spiritual home of the Euromaidan protest movement that toppled a Moscow-backed president in 2014. Russia then annexed Crimea and backed separatists in the east.
There were tank traps and sandbags on the side of the road and armed soldiers were circling around. An air raid siren sounded overhead as Volobuev arrived. Few noticed; couples posed for photos.
Volobuev described the war as a sin and was adamant in his criticism of Putin.
“Russia has no future. I think this country (Russia) is going to break apart. Putin has already led Russia to a disaster,” he said.
“I’m not afraid,” he added.
“If I was looking for safety, I wouldn’t have come here, I would have continued to live a life of well-nourished abundance and everything would have been fine. I understood that I was going to war.”
Russia describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special operation” aimed at degrading kyiv’s military power and protecting Russian speakers living in the east of the country.
Volobuev said he opposed the annexation of Crimea, but decided eight years ago to choose the well-being of his family over that of Ukraine.
The February invasion had made him choose Ukraine over his relatives, he said, and he feared they were now in danger. He declined to give further details about their whereabouts or whereabouts.
“I never felt like Russia was my homeland. My homeland was Ukraine,” he said.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Parniyan Zemaryalai, editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
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