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POLICE raced to evict squatters from Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s London mansion today after they occupied the building in solidarity with Ukrainians.
Four protesters broke into 5 Belgrave Square in the mega-rich Belgravia area in the early hours, declaring in a statement: “Russian oligarchs: You occupy Ukraine, we occupy you.”
Speaking to journalists from the balcony of the four-storey mansion, which boasts a private cinema and Turkish steam bath, one of the occupiers said that they wanted to open the house to Ukrainian refugees.
The protesters hung a Ukrainian flag from the property, which was surrounded by a heavy police presence, and dropped banners reading: “Putin, go f*** yourself” and “This property has been liberated.”
“We have expropriated this sanctioned oligarch’s property because he is a warmonger that profits off war and devastation,” one said. “He funds Putin’s war machine.”
Mr Deripaska is one of seven Russian tycoons who have been sanctioned by the British government over their links to President Vladimir Putin.
The occupiers also criticised British politicians and banks, saying that they have allowed Russian oligarchs to launder money through London. “Boris Johnson is an oligarch, his party is protected by oligarchs,” the occupier shouted. “We stand up against oligarchs everywhere and stand up for oppressed people everywhere.”
The group said they hoped the occupation would send a message of solidarity to Ukrainians facing Russian bombardment that people in Britain stand with them.
On the British government’s response to the Ukraine refugee crisis, he said: “The government doesn’t act, we have acted in their place, we are doing something.”
In a statement posted on the Resist London Twitter account, the group said that the action was also intended to show sympathy with “brave” anti-war protesters in Russia.
The group vowed to remain in the house until the end of the war, but shortly after noon, 12 hours into the occupation, officers in full riot gear accompanied by specialist protester removal teams arrived to evict the protesters.
As the police moved in, one occupier said: “The man here has been sanctioned by the British government, yet the police are protecting his home.”
Officers cracked open the front door before a line of them entered the building. A cherry-picker crane was also used to persuade the protesters down from the balcony, but they repeatedly refused to co-operate.
Supporters gathering nearby cheered to encourage the occupiers as the police moved in.
Earlier this month, US business magazine Forbes reported that Mr Deripaska, an aluminium magnate, was the owner of 5 Belgrave Square.
In 2002 it was the most expensive terraced property in the world, available to buy for £25 million.
Asked earlier what it was like inside the luxury property, one occupier, who said he was from Lithuania, described the wealth on show as “terrible,” adding: “No-one deserves this.
“Keeping such a massive property to yourselves when there are people all over London — you see homeless people just there when you walk past the Tube station — and they don’t even live in [it],” another said. “They just have it as an investment. That’s terrible. We’re standing up against that.”
The Lithuanian suggested that the group had been inspired to occupy Mr Deripaska’s property by strong statements from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has called for Russian billionaires’ properties to be seized to rehouse Ukrainian refugees.
Asked whether they agreed with Mr Khan’s comments that this would be a form of poetic justice, one of the occupiers replied: “It is poetic justice, but it’s also real justice. This is what justice looks like, and we all have the power to do it.”
He added that the London mayor should therefore express his solidarity with the occupation.
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that officers had been called to the property shortly after 1am, adding later that officers were satisfied by about 3pm that no protesters remained inside the mansion.
“We continue to engage with four people on the balcony as we balance the need for enforcement with the safety of all involved,” the Met said.
“We remain at the scene and are considering the appropriate next steps given the large and complex nature of this property.”
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