50.50: Video

‘War gave us the final push’: Why one gay couple fled Russia for Turkey

Turkey’s record on LGBTQI rights is little better than Russia’s. All the same, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was the final straw for Dima and Mitya

signal-2021-04-28-124314_001 copy.png Tugba Baykal
Zeynep Sentek Tugba Baykal
28 April 2022, 2.51pm

“It was [already] really hard living in Russia,” says Dima. “But now there is no life in Russia at all.”

Dima and his partner Mitya are among an estimated 200,000 Russians who have left their country since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine at the end of February.

Many fear further crackdowns on anti-war dissent, and the possibility that forced conscription could be introduced.

But there are limited options for destination countries; the EU, US and the UK have all closed their airspace to Russian planes. So Russians are largely travelling to neighbouring countries in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, including Armenia, Georgia and Turkey.

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We filmed Dima and Mitya, who made their way to Turkey – one of the few countries Russians can enter visa-free.

They told us how they booked their flights as soon as they heard about Putin’s speech about a “special military operation”. Being a gay couple and feeling the pressure of Russia’s newly enacted anti-gay federal laws, they had already been thinking about leaving the country. “A lot of LGBT activists were punished, going to jail,” said Dima.

Turkey and Russia have been ranked among the worst places to live in Europe for LGBTIQ people by advocacy group ILGA-Europe. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government frequently target LGBTIQ groups, and the government-influenced media often spreads disinformation about LGBTIQ activists.

Still, the country – and especially its biggest city, Istanbul – has become a ‘hub’ for mostly young and progressive Russians, including LGBTIQ people, either to settle in or to wait for the results of EU visa applications.

Mitya talked about how his Ukrainian friends posted on social media during the first days of the war, accusing all Russians of being responsible.

“I do understand these people, they lost their homes, they’re being bombed, but I really want them to understand that there is nothing we could do about it,” he said, “The only thing we could do was to show our protest and show that we could never accept that.”

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