Bi-2: Russian anti-war band leaves Thailand for Israel

The band performing in Portugal last yearGetty Images

An anti-war Russian-Belarusian rock band says all its members have left Thailand for Israel after fears they would be deported to Russia.

Bi-2 had been playing in a Thai resort popular with Russian tourists when members were arrested for unauthorised shows.

Human rights activists urged Thailand not to deport them for fear they would be persecuted in their home countries.

Now the band says it is on its way to Tel Aviv in Israel.

The band’s frontman, Yegor “Lyova” Bortnik, has already arrived in the Israeli city, Radio Free Europe reports.

On its Facebook page, the band announced on Wednesday: “All the musicians in Bi-2 have successfully left Thailand and are heading to Tel Aviv. Details tomorrow.”

The band was being held in the capital Bangkok after being arrested while touring Phuket, a resort island that hosts hundreds of thousands of Russian visitors each year.

In an earlier statement it said that “outside pressure” had “played a significant role” in its detention by the Thai authorities.

“We know that the reason for this pressure is [retaliation] for our creativity, our views, our position,” it said.

The band has been touring outside Russia since 2022, including playing shows across Europe last year.

In May, Russia’s justice ministry labelled Bortnik a “foreign agent” for “opposing” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “making negative statements” about Russia, its citizens and authorities.

The band has been singled out by Russian lawmakers before for its alleged “anti-Russian stance”.

Russian state TV quoted the Russian ambassador to Thailand, Yevgeny Tomikhin, on Tuesday as saying that Moscow had not requested the band’s extradition.

Thailand and, in particular, its desirable island holiday spots such as Phuket have seen a huge influx of Russian tourists since the war began in Ukraine nearly two years ago.

Many Russians have fled the country to avoid conscription. By some estimates, nearly half a million Russians arrived in Phuket in the first half of 2023.