Protesters on oligarch’s balcony have ‘made peace with getting arrested’

The squatters broke into the property in Belgrave Square at around 1am on Monday and declared that it ‘belongs to Ukrainian refugees’.

Rebecca Speare-Cole
Monday 14 March 2022 15:35 GMT
People occupying a mansion belonging to a Russian oligarch (Jonathan Brady/PA)
People occupying a mansion belonging to a Russian oligarch (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)

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Four protesters who have been surrounded by police on the balcony of a central London mansion owned by oligarch Oleg Deripaska say they have “made their peace with getting arrested”.

The squatters broke into the property in Belgrave Square at around 1am on Monday and declared that it “belongs to Ukrainian refugees”.

Mr Deripaska, an industrialist who has had close links with the British political establishment, was targeted with sanctions by the Government last week.

The four men, who initially told reporters there were five of them, have been sitting on the edge of the balcony, surrounded by police both inside and outside the building, for more than an hour.

Police at the scene in Belgrave Square, central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Police at the scene in Belgrave Square, central London (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)

The street has also been cordoned off with at least 10 police vehicles and at least 32 officers visible on the scene.

The Metropolitan Police told the PA news agency that the number of officers was part of a “flexible and proportionate response”.

Officers wearing harnesses first tried to deploy a ladder to access the balcony but after the squatters sat in the way to obstruct them, a JCB crane was moved in to lift them up instead.

Police wearing riot gear also used a drill to break open the front door and enter the house.

Scotland Yard said in a statement: “Officers have completed a search of the property in Belgrave Square and are satisfied there are no protesters inside.

“We continue to engage with those on the balcony as we balance the need for enforcement with the safety of all involved.”

Speaking to the PA news agency over the phone, one of the protesters, who refused to give his name but said he was from Lithuania, said: “All our group made peace with arrest because this was always one of the options.

“I’m ready to take the consequences for something I believe.”

We stay here until Putin stops the war

Protester

He also said they had done “everything by the book” and they had left “no criminal damage” in the property.

The man said that although he did not know what reason the police would have to arrest or charge him he “would like to go to court and prove my point”.

“This house could house 200 people. We have been doing a job the Government should do. We have liberated the property for refugees,” he added.

Describing the house, he said: “It is massive. I got lost I don’t know how many times.

“There are so many unnecessary rooms, there is a cinema, lots of expensive paintings. No one deserves all this.”

Asked how they got into the property, he joked: “Squatters’ magic with some climbing skills.”

The squatters call themselves the London Mahknovists – after Nestor Makhno, who led an anarchist force that attempted to form a stateless society in Ukraine during the Russian Revolution of 1917-1923.

They hung a Ukrainian flag as well as two signs which read “this property has been liberated” and “Putin go f*** yourself”.

People have occupied a mansion belonging to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (Jonathan Brady/PA)
People have occupied a mansion belonging to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)

They also danced, played music and one man sang lines from the Dirty Dancing song (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.

“We stay here until Putin stops the war,” one man said to reporters.

He continued: “We have opened the building to house Ukrainian refugees and refugees from all nations.”

They said the UK Government had “failed” to properly respond to the invasion. The group also criticised the police, comparing them to those arresting protesters in Russia.

A Metropolitan Police statement earlier said: “Police were called shortly after 1am on Monday March 14 to a residential property in Belgrave Square, SW1.

“Officers attended and found that a number of people had gained entry and hung banners from upstairs windows.

“Officers remain at the location.”

Mr Deripaska has been described as “a prominent Russian businessman and pro-Kremlin oligarch”, who is “closely associated” with both the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin.

His wealth is estimated to be £2.3 billion and he has a multimillion-pound property portfolio in the UK which, according to a 2007 High Court judgment, includes the house at 5 Belgrave Square. Records indicate it has not changed hands since and is owned by an offshore British Virgin Islands company.

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