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'Arctic 30' journalist proposed to his girlfriend on his release

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 29, 2013


Kieron Bryan of Britain exits the Federal Migration Service in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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Kieron Bryan, the Devon journalist held by the Russian authorities for 60 days, has proposed to his girlfriend.

Mr Bryan, 29, who arrived back in the UK on Friday, revealed he had proposed to Nancy Thorburn, 27, when they were reunited in the Russian city of St Petersburg.

“I know it’s a moment when you’re supposed to make some amazing speech but I didn’t really say much. I just asked her and she said ‘yes’,” he told the Sunday Times.

“I didn’t want to delay any more. I decided while I was in prison that I wanted her to be my wife.”

Mr Bryan, 29, was arrested in September for his part in a Greenpeace protest against oil drilling in the Arctic. He had initially faced a prison sentence of up to 15 years on a charge of piracy and later up to seven years for the lesser charge of hooliganism.

He was released on bail with 28 protesters - including Alexandra Harris and Iain Rogers and a Russian photographer in November but was not allowed to leave Russia until Friday.

Describing his emotional reunion with Ms Thorburn, he said: “She came to see me with my dad. We were only going to have 36 hours together so I didn’t think I’d ask her but as soon as I saw her I just knew I had to.”

Mr Bryan, a video journalist, said he and his family plan to celebrate a belated Christmas together — although his family will receive only boxes of matches, purchased while in prison, as gifts.

“I tried to go shopping in St Petersburg but I just couldn’t get into it,” he said.

“I just couldn’t allow myself to believe that it might all be over and I’d be coming home.”

He told the Sunday Times he was now planning a trip to the theatre with his sister-in-law and a visit to White Hart Lane, the home of Tottenham Hotspur, in February with his brother Russell.

“I also want to go and see all my friends and everybody who did so much to help get me out,” he said. “I just feel so humbled by what everybody has done for me.”

While Bryan was in prison he received only snatches of information about the campaign which his family, friends and Greenpeace ran to put pressure on the Russian government to release him and his fellow inmates.

“It really only struck me properly when I was released on bail in St Petersburg and I saw my parents and my brother being interviewed on television,” he said. “That was a really tough moment to see what I had put them all through.”

He said the decision to propose and the experience of a Russian prison have made him “less gung-ho” about future assignments.

“Professionally it was just a fantastic job to be offered but I have put my family and Nancy through the wringer for the last three months so I will think very carefully before taking up any such offers again,” he said.

Nevertheless, he remains proud of the work he did with Greenpeace and is still supportive of its campaign.

“I think we have alerted people to the dangers of oil exploration in the Arctic and I think Greenpeace plays a very important part in the wider debate about climate change,” he said.

Reflecting on his imprisonment, Bryan said the worst time was the first fortnight that he spent in Murmansk after being charged with piracy.

“I had no contact with my family or with anything that was familiar and I was facing the prospect of not getting back to England until I was in my forties and most likely losing my fiancée,” he said.

After a visit by lawyers and British embassy officials, however, he began to “settle into a routine and to cope with the boredom of being locked in my cell for 23 hours a day”.

One-hour exercise periods were a “lifeline”, he said: “Sometimes I would see some of the others and we could speak. That was really important.”

Aware that the eyes of the world were on them, the Russian prison authorities went out of their way to ensure that the 30 prisoners were well cared for.

“They even provided us with a psychologist but he couldn’t speak a word of English,” said Mr Bryan.

“It was hilarious. He pointed to his head repeatedly and said the word ‘doctor’ to explain that he was a psychologist.

“If we said we were OK he gave us a big thumbs-up and sent us back to our cell. If we said anything else, he offered us pills or put us in a quiet room with yoga mats for an hour and put on an Enya CD.”

Mr Bryan and his fiancee, who have been together for nearly six years, plan to marry in the summer.

“We want to do it as soon as we can,” he said. “After what we’ve been through we don’t want to delay any longer.”

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