Brokeback in Belarus

Valery Sidorenko and Sergei Ostapchuk, both tractor drivers, live together happily in a remote village in the Grodinsky region of Belarus. Alyona Soiko travelled there to meet them and hear their story.

This story may seem unlikely (and I initially doubted it myself) but it is completely true. I have used their real names, and only the name of their village is disguised under its first letter. A.S.

Valery/Valera (V) aged 35.  I was born in B., the village that I still live in. I didn’t do very well at school and went to work in the local collective farm and went on with my education at evening classes at the technical school. Sergei came to live in the village when I was in the ninth class, I think, and he was two years below me – just a kid.

Sergei/Seryoga (S) aged 33. Before that we lived in the next village, then my parents were given a house here so we moved.

V Anyway, we met at school, and knew each other of course. But we had different friends. Even when I was in my last year we didn’t have much to do with each other. Everybody went to the disco, of course, but my friends and I didn’t hang out with the younger crowd.

S We became mates when we started working together at the farm, but we also happened to live opposite one another – those were the houses we were given – so we got friendly as neighbours. He had a wife and kids, so did I. He seemed like a good bloke, our wives were friends as well, our children went to the same nursery. We did birthdays together, all that sort of stuff that neighbours do.

Photo: Flickr/Kuba Luchtaj. Some rights reserved.

V I started dating Yana after we left school. I wasn’t that keen on her. She was a nice girl but I wasn’t interested in getting married. But then she got pregnant. ‘It’s yours!’ she said. My mum hit the roof: ‘you’ve got to marry her’. So we got married, and two years later another baby came along. We didn’t do a lot of the lovey-dovey stuff – the sex was good at the start, but then we started having problems. Apart from that she was okay – did the cooking and washing, looked after the kids, didn’t nag me too much, let me have a drink as long as I didn’t overdo it.

'How can I put it? I was just never attracted to girls. I got so scared when I was about thirteen and we were all changing for PE, and I realised that I really liked looking at other boys’ bodies.'

Not like Seryoga’s hell-cat – she’d have hysterics if he had a few too many. She was a real pain in the arse, that one. Sorry, Seryoga, I know you don’t like me saying it, but you picked yourself a really fucked-up bitch. My wife didn’t like me having a night out with the lads, which I liked doing, and, yea, she got cross about that. But she was okay about everything else, understanding.  

S Yea, but what do you want – there she is, getting on with her life, then one day she opens the bathhouse door, and there we are! Your Yana found out about it all later, but she didn’t see that, it’s easier for her. My Katya went ballistic, yea, but you can understand it. Though she was the nervous type, that’s true. But she could have locked us in there and set fire to the place. So don’t you go slagging her off like that. I don’t swear a lot, but I don’t like it when he starts in on Katya...

V He’s a big pussy. 

S Fuck off.

V Anyway, It’s not easy to explain how it all started. You know what it’s like for blokes – you get a boner, that’s it, end of. You can’t say it’s an illness – not very logical, is it? It’s what cocks do. Like I said, sex with Yana was fine at the start, but then I started having problems getting it up. I always had lots of other girlfriends as well, but then that started going wrong too. Also, I had always wanted to try anal sex, but all the girls were, like, ‘that’s disgusting’. Yana as well. Seriously, they all called me a pervert. I often tried to do get my wife to do it, and she’d joke – ‘what are you, some kind of gay?’ But what’s the problem? Sex is sex. If she’d been up for it I might not have left her. But Seryoga muddied the whole situation – one night when we were drinking he pressed himself against me in the yard. At the time I didn’t push him away. Then afterwards I thought, what was that about? I was totally gobsmacked, but then I thought, what the hell, it was ok, I didn’t mind, there were all these feelings and thoughts going through my head and I actually quite enjoyed them.

S I always preferred men’s bodies. I think now that if I’d grown up in a city, where there’d be other people like that, it would have come to the surface earlier. But who could I talk to about it here? My mother wouldn’t get it, and even if I’d had a more understanding wife she wouldn’t have either. And my father is a typical rough country bloke. But I’m different. I know I’m an uneducated tractor driver, but I’m not stupid. I was just too lazy to learn. How can I put it? I was just never attracted to girls. I got so scared when I was about thirteen and we were all changing for PE, and I realised that I really liked looking at other boys’ bodies. I didn’t think about sex at all, but when, you know, we were at the disco and all the boys were joking, like, that girl’s got nice tits or a nice bum, I realised that turned them on, but I didn’t get it myself. And that did scare me, but I thought, well, that’s life. 

It was Katya who came on to me. She came to work at the farm, as a bookkeeper, and we got together. She was nice but I didn’t feel anything in particular. I don’t want to talk about having sex with her – we have kids, that’s all. It’s like, I could get it up okay, but there was something missing. Plus the feeling that I actually preferred men’s bodies just kept getting stronger. But I didn’t fancy anyone here in the village. The boys at school were one thing, but I wasn’t attracted to any of the men. Except maybe Valera – I liked him. But otherwise, well, I’d be watching a film and there’d be lots of good looking men in it, and I liked them better. I could think of a lot I’d like to do with them. And I wasn’t having a lot of sex with my wife, and she didn’t even ask why. She probably thought I was too tired after work, and that suited me fine. The thing was I was always looking at men, although what could I do about it in the village? So I just pretended everything was okay.

V Stop wittering on and tell her how you made me gay.

S I didn’t do a thing to you. You didn’t beat me up after I hugged you, did you? Anyway, I noticed Valera as soon as we started work, and he was my big fantasy figure all those years. My first and last. Look at him; he’s tall, he had a good body and he was a cheery kind of guy. Every time I saw him I realised what was happening to me. In the summer when he took off his shirt, I could feel myself getting aroused. I really fancied him. I was never really attracted to Katya, but now I knew exactly what I was after. I controlled myself, but it was getting more fucking terrible every day. I don’t swear much, but how else could you say it? I got more and more worked up, couldn’t control myself any longer. That’s basically why I got so drunk that night. But as Valera said, what can you do if you’ve got a stiffy?    

It was the day of the Nepochilovichs’ daughter’s wedding. The whole village was having a party. I got really hammered and the thought came to me: what the hell – if he beats me up can always hang myself. That’s genuinely what was going through my head. I realised that bloody hell, here I was, I was 31 and there’s finally someone who I want. It was the first time understood what it was to want somebody. I’d listened to blokes talking before and never knew what they were on about. But here was a man. And if something had gone wrong, I really would have topped myself, because how could I go on living after that? So I called him out of their house, there’s a garden behind it and I took him there. He was drunk as well and didn’t seem to care where I was taking him. Then I pulled him towards me, and he didn’t push me away.

V Well, we clung to each other, then I broke away, shouted that he was really fucked-up, or something like that, and ran away. Shit, it sounds pretty funny – a grown bloke running away, but that’s what I did.

S But at that point I really relaxed. I realised that he had totally tensed up and that he was aroused as well. I thought, I don’t give a damn what happens now. At least I didn’t have to hang myself.

V Yea, I was totally gobsmacked by it. Okay, so I was drunk, but I knew exactly what  was happening and I was fine with it. Of course after that we stopped talking. We’d say hello, but without even looking at each other. That went on for six weeks or so, but I’d keep remembering it and how good it had been. And the scary thing was that whenever I had sex with Yana it was him I was thinking about. And I kept worrying about why he’d done it then and had been avoiding my eyes since. It was him, after all, that had come on to me. Then I would think, well he was pretty plastered as well, though not enough to go and hit on another bloke. He had to have done it on purpose, the filthy queer. But I was also fantasising about him big time. We didn’t hold back for long. I went and asked him to help me fix the boiler in my bathhouse the next Sunday, when my wife and kids would be away visiting her mother. Okay, I thought, let’s see what happens. And that’s when everything did happen.

S Afterwards we were lying there and talked a bit about it all. I told him about my feelings, just like I’ve told you just now, and he told me about his fantasies. You certainly couldn’t call it a case of love at first sight – we didn’t go off and buy rings, at work we carried on as usual – and we met now and then in his bathhouse. It was so good to be together, but we had no ideas about living together. Then Katya caught us in the bathhouse; she was highly strung at the best of times and now she completely lost it. We were totally fucked. She told Valera’s wife and went around telling the whole village about how we were perverts. Then she took the kids and went off to live with her mother, and Valera’s wife followed suit. In fact we don’t even know where his children are now, or where Yana is. My wife won’t let me come near her mother’s house. I’ve tried to visit, but all I get is tears and hysterics.

'So it turns out we abandoned our kids for a bit of cock. And I suppose we did. But nobody wanted to abandon anybody. There are enough families where the husband has a girlfriend. Only this time it’s a boyfriend. If Katya had found me with some Masha or other, do you think there’d have been a problem?'

V I think Yana had a boyfriend anyway, I’m sure of it. We just don’t know where she went, and even if we did, the situation would be the same as Seryoga’s. Anyway, given that they had fucked off, we thought we may as well live together. Everybody knows about us, we’ve got nothing to hide. And we only have each other now.

S So it turns out we abandoned our kids for a bit of cock. I suppose we did. But the point is that nobody wanted to abandon anybody. We could have gone on just as before, if they hadn’t made such a fuss. There are enough families where the husband has a girlfriend. Only this time it’s a boyfriend. If Katya had found me with some Masha or other, do you think there’d have been a problem? But now we have a melodrama. But it’s not for me to judge – I’ve no idea how I would have reacted if I’d seen my wife with another woman. But once it all came out, there was no option but to split up, and we’ve been left all alone together.

V We should probably have all lived together, instead of which we’re all living apart. Everything just blew up in our faces. We were too scared – how can you live here with another man, and all that sort of stuff. Are we gay or not – who knows? I used to enjoy sex with a woman, though he says he never did – but I’m different, supposedly straight. Although it’s true I don’t fancy women any more. So if liking sex with another bloke makes you gay, then I’m gay. And we get on well, living together, we were always mates, after all. It’s no big deal: we work, we know how to cook, we’ve just done some decorating. We’ve been together now like this for two years, and everything’s fine.

'Are we gay or not – who knows? I used to enjoy sex with women, though he says he never did – but I’m different, supposedly straight. Although it’s true I don’t fancy women any more. So if liking sex with another bloke makes you gay, then I’m gay.'

It’s a pity about the children – that’s the only thing. And we don’t know what we can do about it. We never meant to abandon them, it’s just that everything came out and that was it – they were gone. It’s not even as though we’re, like, in love, romantically. Yes, we want to sleep together. But we didn’t want to abandon our kids and break up our families, and that’s what happened. You can see for yourself. I don’t want to even talk about the scenes our wives made, how everyone was crying, and my wife stood there with the children and told them their dad was a pervert and described in detail why that was the case. I was ready to kill the bitch, and not even because she was lying to them, but did she have to traumatise them like that? And Seryoga’s wife kept shouting that he had more or less dreamed all his life about raping his son. So we had that shit to deal with as well.

S But now, I’m closer to Valera than to anyone. We’re not all soppy and romantic about each other – we’re too old for that sort of thing. But I love him. What’s not to love? He’s my family.     

Photo: Flickr / Alexander Kuznetsov

V You know, if anyone had told me this would happen, I’d have beaten his fucking face in. But here we are. And the village? The village has accepted it. Well, when I say that... If you mean, does anybody say nasty things about us – there hasn’t been anything like that. But then, this is a dead village, there’s nobody here but pensioners. The old dears found it a bit weird, of course: they huffed and puffed and wagged their fingers at us, ‘What’s going on, Valerka, it seems you’re living together as husband and wife?’ But they soon go used to it – ‘well, what’s the harm, you’ve had your kids, that’s what matters for us women – children, grandchildren and so on.’ In other words, we’d done our duty, so we could be forgiven for our fucking.

S At the time, in the heat of the moment, it was hell on wheels, with my wife running round the village in hysterics. But then it all died down. People here have enough problems – a sick cow, kids not coming to visit, pensions not paid, everything’s getting dearer. They can’t spend their lives huffing and puffing at us.

'The old dears found it a bit weird, of course: they huffed and puffed and wagged their fingers at us. But they soon go used to it...'

V Basically, no one gives a fuck now. We can handle the other blokes at work. They asked, of course, ‘What the fuck have you been up to, lads?’ But we said we weren’t going to discuss it with anybody –it was none of their damned business. And if there’s any trouble, we can give as good as we get. No one’s been hanging around in doorways waiting to beat us up. And if they did – well, look at us, we’re not exactly wimps.

S We weren’t even worried about stuff at work. Our boss has his own problems. There’s one tractor for the whole collective farm; it’s autumn, but there’s no digger to dig up the potatoes. And the guys at district headquarters are doing his head in. So he doesn’t give a shit about anything anymore. My wife, when she was rushing around, she went to see him as well, asked him to do something – scare us, make us see sense. But what was it to him? It’s not my Katya who’ll get into trouble over the tractor. He’s a practical bloke, in other words.

V There was one other crazy old girl – whenever she saw us she’d cross herself and start yelling some prayer or other to the whole street. And it’s like any village here, the old dears all sit on their benches watching the world go by. And there she was screaming at the top of her voice, making an exhibition of herself. She’d always been a bit touched. She’s passed on now. We even dug her grave. No point in getting offended by her – she was a sick woman. But the best bit was that a priest came from town, to bless the house, he said. And you, he said, looking at us, need to go to church. God, he said, had left us, and started going on about Satan. I didn’t want to curse at him, but he was really pissing me off. Seryoga here is more laid back, but he got on my tits and I told him to fuck off. And I said that if he ever came back I would beat his face in. I don’t believe in God, and neither does Seryoga. 

I never had anything against gays – I would never slag them off or anything. Basically I don’t care who sleeps with who. If there’s violence involved, or people try to do it with children who are too young to understand, that’s different - I’d line them up and shoot them. And anyway, I don’t think I ever saw anybody gay. Sometimes kids come here to visit their grannies and you wouldn’t know from the back whether it’s a boy or a girl. They all look the same, all these tight jeans and weird colours. So now gays look more like girls, is that it? I can’t say I like it if a lad looks like a lass – that’s some kind of bollocks. But sex is about two people, right? What we get up to in the bedroom is my own business and nobody else’s. 

About the author

Alyona Soiko is a journalist working in Moscow.

Read On

'Gays in Belarus Face Reprisals for Activism' by Yuras Karmanau, February 15, 2013, Associated Press.

'Gay in the USSR' by Nora FitzGerald, May 26, 2013, Foreign Policy.