Igor Khashin and wife Yulia Kashina, talking to O Setubalense newspaper

Russians in eye of refugee reception storm defend actions

“We have nothing to hide” says Igor Khashin

The Russian couple at the centre of the refugee reception furore exposed last month by Expresso have finally spoken to reporters, saying they have absolutely nothing to hide.

Igor Khashin and his wife Yulia have given an exclusive interview to national daily Público and local newspaper O Setubalense.

In it, Igor states categorically that he is “not a spy” – explaining that his association’s perceived links with the Kremlin are perfectly innocuous – on a par with the fact that the Council of Portuguese Communities, for example, is sponsored by the Portuguese government.

Expresso today says PJ police are only now preparing to formally interview Mr Khashin and his wife, following searches of the Edinstvo association of eastern emigrés that Mr Khashin heads up, and of the offices of LIMAR (Setúbal municipality’s refugee support facility) in which various documents were reportedly apprehended.

The paper claims that, up till now, the Khashin’s home “has not been the target of any (police) operation”, despite the fact that the inquiry into allegations that Ukrainian refugees’ personal details may have been sent to authorities in Russia – was opened more than two weeks ago.

Fears of wider crimes of espionage “will not be easy to prove” at the best of times, sources have told Expresso, “because Russian services are conservative in their methods and, supposedly, do not facilitate when it comes to communications trails. Igor Khashin was identified in reports by SIS” (internal security services), but he has never been monitored, or “an object of vigilance”.

To Público/ O Setubalense, the 44-year-old has said: “Let (the PJ) do what they have to do: we have nothing to hide”.

The couple’s responses as to why they took copies of refugees’ documentation and why they purportedly asked questions about family members, were all a question of satisfying bureaucratic requirements of the council/ SEF borders agency, they explained.

“We were always accompanied by a Portuguese woman,” said Yulia Khashina. “She was the one who filled in the forms. Photocopies were taken of the passport and the temporary protection registration certificate, which were added to the file and kept at the town hall.”

Mrs Khashina added that “scanning is done to upload to the SEF platform, to make the request for temporary protection”.

“We have to scan the documents and attach them on the platform,” she said. “The questions, asked by the SEF platform, and not by us, are the mother’s name, father’s name, place of birth, household. Everything has to be filled in.”

This does not in fact explain the refugees’ complaints that they were asked about their husbands, what their husbands were doing in Ukraine, and where they were physically in the country.

But Igor did stress that as far as he could recall the conversations he had had with refugees about family members had been in the context that the refugees themselves were keen to know whether these family members could eventually come to Portugal to join them.  

As for the couple speaking Russian to incoming Ukrainians, they both explained that they “didn’t even think about it: Russian is practically like English in Western Europea language of communication”.

Paramount, in the Khashin’s point of view, was being able to respond to an ‘urgent situation’ with little preparation.

The war in Ukraine, they stressed is “a tragedy” and they are “more Portuguese than pro-anything else”.

Reading between the lines, the pair appear to have been careful not to associate with any particular ‘side’ in the ongoing drama that has martyred and displaced so many Ukrainian citizens.

Igor is quoted as telling his interviewers: “It is incorrect and irresponsible to say I am for one or other regime. I have been in Portugal for 20 years. I am pro-human, and what interests me is what happens right now to all the communities (of eastern immigrants) in Portugal”.

Yulia, for her part, said she has been “shocked” by the way this story has been handled. ““We were left in a situation where we are the ones who have to prove that we are not bad (…) Our twenty years of work was destroyed in one day.”

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com