LONDON — On Monday, among the embassies dotting Belgrave Square in London, a Ukrainian flag hung from a window of one of the white stucco mansions. Another banner hung on the balcony below read, “This property has been vacated.”
A group of people in balaclavas sat on the balcony with dangling feet, waving to a small group of supporters as police surrounded the area.
On Sunday evening, the group broke into the house to protest President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The house is one of the addresses of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list.
“You occupy Ukraine, we occupy you,” said a leaflet on the initiative of the self-proclaimed anarchists, adding that the mansion, which belonged to a “Russian oligarch, accomplice in the invasion of Putin”, would welcome Ukrainian refugees.
Britain recently pledged to toughen laws on oligarchs. On Friday, he added Mr. Deripaska, who is a well-connected industrialist known to be close to Mr. Putin, to a sanctions list, along with six other oligarchs.
The UK government also said on Sunday it would explore the possibility of using the homes of those sanctioned for humanitarian purposes.
Mr Deripaska was one of the few oligarchs to speak out against the war in Ukraine, calling for peace and calling the war “madness”. He also opposed the sanctions, saying on Twitter that there was not a “single fact” justifying the firm’s decision to add him to the list.
According to court documents from 2006, Mr. Deripaska was the beneficial owner of the occupied house, but Mr. Deripaska’s spokeswoman said the house belonged to members of his family and not to him personally.
“We are appalled at the neglect of the UK justice system shown by Boris Johnson’s cabinet in introducing the sanctions and in collusion with the kind of people who plunder private property,” spokeswoman Larisa Belyaeva said in a statement. an email.
She added that the ‘witch hunt in Russia’ will eventually end but that ‘it is really a shame that this is happening in a country that is supposed to respect private property and the rule of law’.
Images of the mansion from a 1938 issue of Country Life magazine show lavish rococo interiors. In 2002, when the house was on the market, it would have been one of the last private homes in a square mainly used by embassies and institutions. It had seven reception rooms, seven bedrooms and a hammam.
Protesters told reporters they had gotten lost several times in the house.
Jochen Lukesch, 61, a retired schoolteacher, jumped out of bed in an east London suburb when he heard on the radio that the mansion had been occupied. He wrapped himself in a Ukrainian flag and rushed to Belgrave Square.
“So this is where the gangsters live,” he said, as he marveled at the mansions before joining a small crowd of supporters and shouting “Slava Ukraini,” or glory to the Ukraine.
London’s Metropolitan Police said officers were called to the property on Monday morning and found only a few protesters on the balcony. On Monday afternoon, they arrested two people who were trying to break through the police cordon around the building.
Tatiana Golovina, 59, a Russian entrepreneur who had to detour to her home near Belgrave Square because of the protest, disagreed. She denounced the war in Ukraine but said occupying private property was not the solution.
“It’s barbaric,” she said, taking a photo of the occupation, “it reminds me of the Russian Revolution of 1917.”