About a week ago news broke about a mysterious man claiming to be a Russian who swam to the eastern Hokkaido town of Shibetsu in hopes of seeking asylum. Although the Sapporo Regional Immigration Services Bureau who are handling the case still haven’t revealed any details, Russian media believe they have identified the man as 38-year-old Vaas Feniks Nokard.
According to The Moscow Times, Nokard was previously deported from Japan in 2011 because he violated the conditions of his visa. He apparently was ejected from Thailand and Bali for similar reasons.
Before making this year’s fateful journey, Nokard lived in the Russian controlled disputed island of Kunashir for three years, having moved there from the Izhevsk, a city about 1,000 kilometers east of Moscow. He had taken part in a Russian government program offering a hectare of free land to anyone willing to move the far east and help develop the sparsely populated area. However, upon arriving in the village of Golovino, Nokard reportedly did very little, adopting a drifter lifestyle of sleeping in tents and homes of anyone willing to take him in. As time went by, he seemed to have tired of this and made his run for the border that lies in the middle of a 20-kilometer stretch of ocean.
▼ The southwestern-most tip of Kunashir would provide the shortest swim
It still hasn’t been confirmed that Nokard actually made the entire swim by himself, but as more details emerge it’s beginning to seem like he did. The Moscow Times also reported that he contacted a friend of his on Kunashir, asking them to pick up a motorcycle he left on the coast so they could sell it and send him the money. Meanwhile, Hokkaido Shimbun reported that a friend who taught Nokard Japanese in Kunashir said he wanted to visit Japan very much but couldn’t because of his visa problems.
There actually are ways for residents of the disputed islands to visit Japan without a visa, which makes his method of entry that much stranger. Perhaps Nokard was ineligible for those too, or simply was unaware of them.
There is speculation that he wore a wetsuit which he removed upon reaching Japan. At about 8 a.m. on 19 August he was spotted on a surveillance camera wearing a blue outfit. Then he entered a store and bought a different set of clothes along with a backpack at about 1:30 in the afternoon. He was turned in to police later that evening.
▼ News report showing the man dressed in blue
When news of the man’s arrival first broke, netizens were worried that something bad might be transpiring in Russia and that the situation seemed like the beginning of a disaster movie. While this now appears to be far from the case, our refugee of wanderlust has certainly swum into a diplomatic hornets’ nest.
The fact that he is trying to defect from a disputed territory is making matters particularly delicate. If Japan were to accept his claim, they could potentially also be recognizing that the island is a part of Russia in the process. The dispute over the island chain which Kunashir belongs to has been going on since the end of WWII, and is the reason that no peace treaty has ever been signed between the two countries since then.
It will probably take quite some time for Japan to figure out how to handle this unique case.
Source: The Moscow Times, Novaya Gazeta, Hokkaido Shimbun
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