One of two Canadians among a group of Greenpeace activists who have had charges dropped against them by the Russian government says he was treated "fairly" but is eager to leave the "sad conditions" of the detention centre where they have been held for months.
"I'm healthy. I'm safe now," said Paul Ruzycki of Port Colborne, Ont., who was arrested along with Montrealer Alexandre Paul in September. "I'm not angry...It could have been a lot worse."
Meanwhile, the first of the so-called Arctic 30 has left Russia, the environmental group said on Thursday.
Soviet-born Swedish activist Dima Litvinov crossed the Finnish border getting an exit stamp in his passport. The rest of the group is expected to go through the process on Friday.
'The ordeal — it's memorable. I don't think I ever want to go into a Russian detention centre again - Paul Ruzycki
The Arctic 30, which includes two journalists, were detained following a high-seas protest at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Arctic, where several demonstrators attempted to scale the offshore drilling platform before they were intercepted and their ship was commandeered by Russian commandos.
"It could have been a lot worse. The ordeal — it's memorable," he told CBC News on the phone. "I don't think I ever want to go into a Russian detention centre again."
Paul has been given his exit visa, and is expected to arrive in Montreal late Friday afternoon, but Ruzycki, who spoke to CBC News on Thursday morning, is still waiting for his. Ruzycki expected to get his in the "next couple of days."
The group was originally charged with piracy, but that was downgraded to hooliganism.
Russian investigators have now dropped charges against all of the Greenpeace ship's crew, the environmental group said Wednesday.
"I'll say they did treat me with dignity and respect," noted Ruzycki."[But] there was no special treatment."
Ruzycki described the detention centre as having "sad conditions."
He said he was satisfied with the actions taken by the Greenpeace group.
"We got attention to oil exploration and exploitation in the Arctic," said Ruzycki. "We're calling for world park status similar to the Antarctic where only research is allowed, no mining or oil exploration."
Charges dropped under amnesty
The criminal charges against the crew were dropped under an amnesty that was passed by the Russian parliament earlier this month, seen by many as an attempt by the Kremlin to dampen criticism of Russia's human rights record before the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.
"This is all PR on [President Vladimir] Putin's part trying to look good before the world comes to Russia," Ruzycki-Stirling said.
Ryabko said that foreign members of the crew had already applied to the Russian authorities for exit visas and expect to get them in the next few days.
Peter Willcox, the U.S. captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, said in a statement released by the group that he was "pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all."
Putin has questioned the Greenpeace protesters' intentions to protect the Arctic and alleged they were trying to hurt Russia's economic interests by demonstrating at the oil rig, run by state-controlled petroleum company Gazprom. He said earlier this month that he did not mind that charges against the Greenpeace team were dropped under the amnesty, but that he hoped that "this will not happen again."
Greenpeace says Gazprom — the world's largest gas company — risks causing a catastrophic oil spill in an area with three nature reserves that are home to polar bears, walruses and rare seabirds.
Gazprom says it began production from the Prirazlomnaya offshore platform this week.
Greenpeace argues that any oil leak would be catastrophic in the pristine environment and impossible to bring under control.