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Russian rockers critical of Putin’s Ukraine war ‘free’ in Israel after Thailand deportation under likely Kremlin pressure

A dissident Russian rock band angered by Moscow’s war in Ukraine has arrived in Israel after being deported from Thailand under suspected pressure from the Kremlin, the performers said on Thursday.

The seven members of the band Bi-2 were arrested last week after playing a concert on the southern resort island of Phuket, reportedly for not having proper working papers. On Facebook, they said all their concerts “are held in accordance with local laws and practices.”

Phuket is a popular destination for Russian expats and tourists. After paying a fine, the band members were sent to an immigration detention centre in Bangkok.

Speaking in the arrival hall of Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, guitarist and singer Aleksandr “Shura” Uman of Bi-2 said the band was doing well and very tired after their ordeal. He also called the conditions he and his band faced in a Thai jail as “horrible.”

“We are free, and we will keep moving forward,” Uman said.

Uman thanked the Israeli, American and Australian diplomats, as well as human rights organizations, for their work to bring them to Israel. A handful of supporters met their early-morning flight with signs to welcome them to Israel.

Russia has denied it had a hand in trying to get the band deported. However, Moscow has a reputation for cracking down on artists critical of the war, even those working abroad. The Kremlin had previously singled out Uman and another member of Bi-2, Yegor “Lyova” Bortnik.

On Wednesday night, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised diplomatic efforts that enabled all the musicians to leave Thailand for Israel. One band member with Israeli citizenship had returned earlier on Wednesday morning.

Kanchana Patarachoke, a Thai Foreign Ministry