Four squatters who have been surrounded by police on the balcony of a central London mansion owned by the oligarch Oleg Deripaska say they have “made their peace with getting arrested”.
The squatters broke into the property in Belgrave Square at about 1am on Monday and declared that it “belongs to Ukrainian refugees”.
The four men, who initially told reporters there were five of them, were sitting on the edge of the balcony, surrounded by police inside and outside the building. The street was cordoned off and at least 10 police vehicles and dozens of officers were on the scene.
Officers wearing harnesses first tried to deploy a ladder to access the balcony but after the squatters sat in the way to obstruct them, a JCB crane was moved in to lift the officers up instead.
Scotland Yard said: “Officers have completed a search of the property in Belgrave Square and are satisfied there are no protesters inside. We continue to engage with those on the balcony as we balance the need for enforcement with the safety of all involved.”
Speaking to the PA news agency over the phone, one of the protesters, who refused to give his name but said he was from Lithuania, said: “All our group made peace with arrest because this was always one of the options. I’m ready to take the consequences for something I believe.”
The protesters say they feel their countries are also under threat from Vladimir Putin. Their plan is to open up the mansion – which they say “has too many rooms to count”, including a cinema and a wine cellar – to Ukrainians fleeing the war, along with other refugees needing shelter.
In a message to Russian oligarchs, the squatters said: “You occupy Ukraine, we occupy you.”
This part of London has been nicknamed “oligarchs’ quarter” because so many wealthy Russians have bought properties here, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.
The squatters also criticised UK banks and parts of the establishment that they say have allowed oligarchs to launder their billions in London.
They declined to say how they got into Deripaska’s property but said “it required climbing skills” and “squatters’ magic”.
“This is not ordinary squatting, this is property liberation,” one of the squatters said.
In a statement sent to the Guardian, the squatters said the invasion of Ukraine was the latest in a long line of human rights abuses by Putin’s government, including the bombing of Syria and mistreatment of LGBT people.
“This mansion will serve as a centre for refugee support for Ukrainians and people of all nations and ethnicities,” they said.
The squatters said they were invoking the spirit of Nestor Makhno, a Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary. They said they would not leave the property willingly and planned to barricade themselves in if police or bailiffs tried to remove them.
A Metropolitan police spokesperson said: “Police were called shortly after 01:00hrs on Monday 14 March to a residential property in Belgrave Square, SW1. Officers attended and found that a number of people had gained entry and hung banners from upstairs windows. Officers remain at the location.”
This is not the first time squatters have occupied an oligarch’s London mansion. In 2017 a group occupied the mansion of Andrey Goncharenko in nearby Eaton Square, which they said they wanted to open as a homeless shelter. Goncharenko is not currently under UK government sanctions.