ROGACA, Serbia (AP) — When Elena Koposova signed an open letter against Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, she didn’t expect a backlash in her newly adopted home state of Serbia.

After all, Serbia formally seeks to join the European Union, while adopting all the democratic values ​​that accompany membership, he thought. Now he sees that she was wrong.

Two years after signing the letter, the 54-year-old Russian woman is appealing an expulsion order after she was declared a threat to Serbia’s national security and had her residence permit revoked. The embattled literature translator said the only reason she could think of was the anti-war petition she had signed.

“I’m not an activist, but I signed an anti-war letter when Russian aggression in Ukraine just started,” she said in an interview. “Although I am not an activist, I couldn’t just stay silent. “So I just put my name on the open letter that said war is a crime and we must all come together to stop it.”

Koposova is not alone. Serbia opened its borders in recent years to tens of thousands of Russians fleeing President Vladimir Putin’s government and the war in Ukraine. Russian pro-democracy activists in the Balkan country now say that at least a dozen have recently faced entry bans or had their residence permits revoked because they are considered a threat to Serbia’s security.

At least eight others are afraid to speak publicly about their legal problems with Serbian authorities, fearing that this could only jeopardize their chances of remaining in the country along with their families, Russian anti-war activists say.

“It was very sudden, very shocking,” said Koposova about the moment she received the expulsion order, which did not explain the reason for the measure, only stating that it represents “a threat to national security” and that she must leave the country. In 30 days.

She and her husband have built a modern house on land in a remote village outside Belgrade, where they live with two children, ages 6 and 14, who attend the local school and preschool classes.

Human rights activists say the residency issues point to a close relationship between Serbia’s increasingly autocratic president, Aleksandar Vučić, and Putin, despite Serbia’s formal EU candidacy. Vučić has refused to join Western sanctions against the traditional Slavic ally, while he has allowed Moscow’s propaganda outlets, such as RT and Sputnik, to spread his narrative across the Balkans.

“The authorities in Belgrade and the authorities in Moscow are politically very close,” said Predrag Petrović, research coordinator at the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, an independent think tank that has asked the Interior Ministry for an explanation about the measures against the Russians.

“People who criticize the Putin regime represent a big threat to the regime in Moscow,” Petrović said. “That is why these people are in the crosshairs of the Serbian authorities.”

Serbian officials have so far not commented on the reported cases involving Russian citizens, and Serbia’s Interior Ministry has not responded to an email from The Associated Press requesting an interview or comment on the matter.

Since the war in Ukraine began two years ago, many Russians have come to Serbia because they do not need visas to enter the friendly Balkan state, a potential springboard for possible future emigration to the West. Many were avoiding the draft, while others, like the Koposova family, who arrived earlier, were simply fed up with Putin’s rule and were looking for a better life somewhere outside Russia.

Peter Nikitin, one of the founders of the pro-democracy Russian Democratic Society, spent two days at Belgrade airport last summer when his entry permit was revoked, even though he has a Serbian wife and has lived in Serbia for seven years. Nikitin was later allowed to enter the country, but a legal procedure related to his residency documents is ongoing.

“I have no doubt that this is being done on direct orders from Russia, either through the embassy or directly from Moscow,” insisted Nikitin, whose group has also organized anti-war protests in Ukraine and demonstrations demanding the freedom of political prisoners, including Alexei Navalny. , a Russian opposition leader and critic of Putin who died on February 16 in an Arctic penal colony in Russia.

Nikitin said other anti-war activists who faced scrutiny from Serbian authorities include fellow RDS group founder Vladimir Volokhonsky, who now lives in Germany.

Also sanctioned were Yevgeny Irzhansky, who organized concerts by anti-Putin bands in Serbia and who has since moved to Argentina with his wife, and Ilya Zernov, a young Russian who was banned from returning to Serbia after being attacked by a far-right group. Serbian nationalist when he tried to erase a wall painting calling for the death of Ukraine in the center of Belgrade.

Nikitin said the goal of these measures is to intimidate anti-war activists.

“The only explanation is that they want to scare everyone,” he said. “Because if you can’t sign an anti-war letter, then there’s really nothing you can do. And it has a chilling effect.”

“The thing is that pacifist Russians are not protesting here against anyone in Serbia,” Nikitin said. “We are only concerned about our own country and our neighboring country, which is suffering for our country right now.”

Serbia’s close relations with Russia date back centuries and the two countries also share a common Slavic origin and an Orthodox Christian religion. Russia has supported Serbia’s attempt to maintain its claim to Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008 with Western backing.

Serbia and Russia also maintain close ties between their security services.

Former head of Serbian state security Aleksandar Vulin, who was sanctioned by the United States for aiding Russia’s “evil” influence in the Balkan region, recently received a decoration from the Russian Federal Security Service for close cooperation between the two spy agencies. Vulin was reported to have been involved in wiretapping of prominent Russian opposition activists who met in Belgrade on the eve of the war in Ukraine and who were later imprisoned in Russia.

For Koposova, the Serbian authorities’ decision to expel her from the country means she and her family could lose everything if her appeal is rejected.

The family cannot return to Russia because they have sold all their property, are now labeled anti-Putin and her husband could be drafted into the army to fight in Ukraine, Koposova said.

“This house is our only home, the only home our children have,” she said with tears in her eyes.


Follow AP’s coverage of Russia and Ukraine at

By Sam