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'I want to wash myself clean of my Russian past' The Gazprombank executive who left Russia to fight alongside Ukrainians

Source: Meduza

Right after Russia invaded Ukraine, former Gazprombank Vice President Igor Volobuyev fled Russia. He now plans to join the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces. Volobuyev spoke about his decision to leave Russia in interviews with journalist Sergei Loiko (for The Insider), Ukrainian blogger Denis Kazansky, and the Ukrainian outlet

Ukrainian blogger Denis Kazansky (left) and Igor Volobuyev (right)
Denis Kazansky’s personal Facebook page

Volobuyev is currently in Kyiv. When Sergei Loiko asked him how he managed to get into Ukraine as a former Gazprombank vice president with a Russian passport, he was evasive. “That’s a long story that I hope to tell sometime in the future. It was very tough,” he said, adding that his journey from Russia to Ukraine included stops in Turkey, Latvia, and Poland.

Volobuyev was born in the city of Okhtyrka in Ukraine’s Sumy region. He said he decided to return to Ukraine because he wanted to “defend his motherland with weapons in hand"; according to him, he first wanted to return back in 2004, but was unable to due to family circumstances. Volobuyev told that in 2014, he “vowed to himself” that he would go and fight if “Russia tanks came to my Okhtyrka.” On February 24, the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the former executive decided to leave Russia for good.

A Ukrainian soldier stands in front of a bombed-out residential building in Okhtyrka. March 24, 2022
Iryna Rybakova / Ukrainian Ground Forces / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

“I couldn’t stay there any longer. I’m a Ukrainian by nationality; I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines and watch as Russia did this to my homeland. My return is like a repentance — I want to wash myself clean of my Russian past. I want to stay in Ukraine until the victory. I can’t live a full, satisfying life while they kill my father, who lives in Okhtyrka; my loved ones; my friends; and my neighbors," said Volobuyev. He clarified that his father is alive and is now safe, but spent a month in a cold basement earlier in the war.

Volobuyev referred to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine as an international crime. “It’s Putin’s crime, the Russian government’s crime, and, as a matter of fact, the Russian people’s crime. Because Putin’s not the one killing Ukrainians here; it’s not Putin who’s stealing toilets and raping women. It’s the Russian people. And despite the fact that I’m Ukrainian by nationality, I also carry responsibility for this. I feel ashamed, and I’ll spend the rest of my life repenting for it, because I’m doubly responsibility — I’m not just a normal Russian person. I was born here [in Ukraine] and I lived here for 18 years, so I’m doubly, triply responsible for this,” said Volobuyev.

Igor Volobuyev, official Gazprom representative Sergey Kupriyanov, and Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev
Zurab Javakhadze/TASS

Volobuyev left Russia on March 2. Initially, he said, nobody knew he had left, but the Russian authorities soon began searching for him. Eventually, they “figured out” that he was in Ukraine. They now suspect him of selling “secrets about the Gazprombank plants” that he used to do PR work for. Volobuyev was unsure whether any criminal cases have been initiated against him in Russia.

In his interview with Kazansky and, Volobuyev noted that his decision to leave Russia wasn’t a matter of security; nobody was threatening his life. He even commented on the deaths of another former Gazprombank vice president, Vladislav Avayev; former Novatek executive Sergey Protoseni; and members of both of their families. Volobuyev said he doesn’t believe either of the deaths were suicides.

“I don’t know what he [Avayev] did for a living; I never knew him, and I had never heard of him before. I also know that at the time of his alleged suicide, he was the acting First Vice President of Gazprombank. I don’t believe he was capable of killing his wife and daughter; I think it was staged. Why? It’s difficult to say. Maybe he knew something and posed some kind of danger,” said Voloboev.

In Volobuyev’s view, the war between Russia and Ukraine has been going on for 20 years already, and it started with economic pressure. “Their objective was to bind Ukraine to Russia, to get it addicted to gas, just like Belarus. That was part of the war. I have to admit that I myself took part in these gas wars when I worked for Gazprom. The first one was around the turn of 2005-2006, and the second was 2008-2009,” he told

During the "gas wars," according to Volobuyev, European consumers stopped seeing Ukraine as a reliable gas supplier, which allowed Russia and Gazprom to offer supply routes that bypass Ukraine.

Volobuyev said that the information war against Ukraine was led by Russian Presidential Administration Deputy Head Alexey Gromov. “Gromov was the main shadowy figure in charge of Russia’s information policy in general and Gazprom’s information policy more specifically. In that sense, Gazprom wasn’t the ideas generator, it was just the executor — all of the tasks came from above. I took orders from Gazprom Press Secretary Sergey Kupriyanov,” said Volobuyev.

Volobuyev is aware that he’s not especially welcome in Ukraine. “I understand that I arrived here covered in shit, and I’m not under the illusion that I can wash it off completely. But on the inside, I’m clean. Will my homeland accept me? I’m not sure. I know the odds aren’t good. I'll have my judges here — my dad, my loved ones, you, and everyone who walks past me on the street. If they spit in my face, I’ll know what it’s for. I know it will be difficult, and I know I deserve it,” he said. 

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