Video has shown a Russian politician who fled to the United States to avoid fighting in Ukraine, speak of his happiness at working as a truck driver, away from the intrigue of politics in his country.
Russian news outlet RTVI said that it used facial recognition software to identify an unnamed man who was interviewed on the YouTube channel “New Americans,” in which Russian émigrés speak in Russian about living in the U.S.
In the clip, the man said he was a former Russian minister who now worked as a truck driver. He was asked about his thoughts on going from politician to “further down the social ladder.”
But the 48-year-old former politician said that during a one-year stint as a student in the U.S. 28 years ago, he realized that Americans “have a different attitude” towards blue-collar work.
He was appreciative that he no longer had to deal with the intrigues of Russian politics. “Here a working man, no matter what he does, if he does it well, he is respected.” He considered himself an “auto tourist” who happens to transport loads and receive a decent salary as he seeks political asylum.
RTVI said that the man was Denis Sharonov and tracked him down to ask him about his new life. Between 2020 and 2022, Denis Sharonov was agriculture minister in Komi, a republic in Russia’s federation roughly the size of California, the capital of which Syktyvkar is around 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow.
Independent Russian-language newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported the story with an image of Sharonov from his Facebook page. His profile on the social media platform says he lives in Brooklyn and is originally from the southwestern Russian city of Orenburg. On his pages are images of him performing ministerial duties as well as photos from the U.S.
Newsweek has contacted Sharonov for comment, via the platform.
He told RTVI he left Russia in the fall of 2022 after he had received a summons from the military enlistment office, a move he believed was aimed at getting rid of him.
Just prior to the summons, he had been fired following a conflict with the acting head of the republic, Vladimir Uyba, and had been prosecuted and acquitted twice on what he said were politically motivated charges.
“The only place, it seems to me, where you cannot somehow be framed and deported is the United States, so I ended up here,” Sharonov told RTVI.
Sharonov is among hundreds of thousands of Russians who have fled their country since the start of Vladimir Putin‘s full-scale invasion.
Russian lawmakers have introduced legislation widening the potential pool of military personnel and making it tougher to avoid the draft. The age for conscription has been raised to 30 and fines for ignoring an electronic summons have been increased. It is also tougher for Russian men of military age to leave the country.