Photo de Vladimir Poutine

Ivan Ivanov

I have been trying to gather my thoughts and write to you for days now. I want to tell you about what is happening here, but I see the news and I think, in the context of all the events in Ukraine, does it really matter? What do my words mean? How do I choose them? Still, I’ll try.

Let’s start with the main thing, and the main thing is so tragic that it is impossible to write about it without tears. Bucha, Irpen, Borodyanka, Mariupol, many other places, dead innocent people, broken lives and endless cruelty of Putin’s army. These are heinous crimes, and all who are guilty must be punished, and Russians must realize what has happened. That is far from the case right now.

Certainly there are people who have access to real information, who know the truth and feel shame, pain and compassion. But most of society is either unaware of what happened or convinced by propaganda that these are fakes. Despite the fact that we speak the same language, most Ukrainians are fluent in Russian, and Russians with a little practice quickly begin to understand Ukrainian. This is what I find most difficult to understand, of course any war is terrible, but usually it is historically or culturally distant.

This particular war is with those whom we understand without translation, with whom we grew up watching the same films and listening to the same music. I cannot accept a war in the 21st century at all, but in this case it is also about our neighbors, in whose shoes it is even easier to imagine our loved ones. It just shouldn’t have happened, but it did, and it’s all the fault of a bunch of people who have lost their humanity. 

On top of all, this madness is being spread through propaganda. In the latest budget amendments the authorities have tripled spending on propaganda, even spending on the army has only increased by 11% and on propaganda by 300%, and this, to my great regret, works, a huge part of society is dominated by television, and those who oppose the war are silenced.

There are hundreds of criminal cases against the protesters, the prosecutor’s office is asking 10 years in prison for a common School teacher for telling her students that war is terrible, Ukraine is not our enemy and Russia needs peace. But there are brave people even now, such as Yevgenia Isayeva. She, clad in a white dress, stood on the steps of the stairs leading up to the St Petersburg City Duma and doused herself with red paint.

She stood there reciting the phrase: « It makes my heart bleed » until she was detained by the police about seven minutes later. I admire her courage, but I cannot find the same in myself, and I am ashamed of it. I used to go protesting when there were a few hundred of us, but now I’m afraid to go out alone, and if I don’t have the courage, I may regret it for the rest of my life, but I’m still scared. 

The fact that I am gay adds to my fear. Many protesters are beaten up, all of them persecuted, but once the police find out that you are an LGBT+ person, your risks of being harassed or not returning home at all increase manifold. My region is not very far from Chechnya, and lots of people here are similar to those prevailing there. Generally all this hatred is now directed towards Ukraine and the people there are suffering from it, but it will come back here as well, with renewed vigor.

But now almost all the volunteers and human rights activists have been kicked out of the country and there is no one to save the victims of homophobia anymore. Before the news from Bucha and other cities, I wanted to write in detail about why homophobia is so important to our government and how it differs from homophobia in the West.

But now I will make it short. It is important to understand how Putin wants to see the world. He is stuck in his illusions, and wants his ideal world back, the world of the sixties of the twentieth century. The wicked irony is that even this vision is illusory, he imagines an idealized world of a confrontation between two superpowers, such as this world has never been. And in this illusion, Putin and his surroundings see themselves as defenders of traditional values, and they cite homophobia as one of their main concerns. More than once since the war began, Putin has explicitly stated that in his view a gender-free world is unacceptable to Russia. One would think, is it such an important matter now?

But he does care about the issue. Putin probably thought he would be supported by the ultra-conservative movements that exist in the West, but what he doesn’t realize is that while there is homophobia among conservatives in the West, it is very different. Homophobia in the West comes largely from faith, from the view that homosexuality is a sin.

Here in Russia it’s different, in 70 years the USSR broke the link between society and religion, most Russians are not religious, and homophobia here comes from the prison culture, it’s even more evil and misanthropic, there is instant dehumanization, if you’re gay you don’t deserve to live at all. But in the end Putin was wrong, no one is ready to support him, even extremely conservative people in other countries are not ready to support everything that is going on.

Finally I would like to add that not everyone here is like that, homophobia is particularly prevalent in the prison, police and military environments, but the young people who are the future of the country are mostly tolerant and peaceful and they are having a hard time at the moment.

Among my friends I’m open, all my friends know about me, it’s more than a hundred people, and I’ve never once encountered homophobia in their face. No matter how hard the authorities tried before this war started, society was changing for the better through the younger generation and only the war managed to put it all in jeopardy.

I, like many people, don’t know what to do about it, but I would like to make a difference. Now my boyfriend and I are thinking about leaving, maybe to Serbia. The problem is that although we are both remote workers, because of the sanctions it will be very difficult for us to send our salaries from Russia to some other country to live there and do something useful.

We do not want to consider refugee status as we want to work, be useful to society, participate in some volunteer work for Urkanians, but here in the current situation it is either completely impossible or extremely risky.