EXCLUSIVE: ‘It’s simple – if we stay here we could die’: a lesbian Russian couple’s fight for asylum continues
Esenia and her family are in a little bit of a better position than when they last spoke.
After escaping Russia to seek LGBT asylum in Ukraine, they have struggled to secure employment, a home, and even an education for their daughter.
But thanks to the help of PinkNews readers and the LGBT+ community, their fundraiser, which will enable them to escape the country so that their daughter can resume her schooling and they can find secure employment is one step closer.
“People donated us about ¢4500 already, which is incredible, but we are still stuck here without a visa,” she said.
“We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. For now it’s impossible. We are not citizens of this country and have no right to go in embassy for visas,” she explained.
“There is zero chance for us to return to russiA”
We wrote lots of letters to LGBTQ+ organizations, but none of them can help us outside of the country,” said Esenia.
The first legally married gay couple recognised in Russia fled the country after the authorities tried to hunt them down when the men said their marriage had been legally recognised in Russia.
“When situation with Pavel Stotsko happened we was contacting them, and tried to get them some help to find refuge in another country, but we were just rejected because we are Russian,” she said.
Like Pavel and his husband, Esenia and Anastasia were told that there chances to have permanent residency in Ukraine are nigh on impossible.
“The last situation with boys showed that we can’t go back home. Nothing has changed there, I’m afraid it’s become even worse,” said Esenia.
“They literally said to us that since we are with my wife and kids are Russians (they also meant boys Pavel and his husband ) we have zero chance to get any right to stay here,” she added.
Although there are neighbouring nations that house other friends on the run, Esenia has said that it’s not as simple as moving to another Eastern Bloc nation – where her language and passport could bring her some relative security.
“The only other options we have in the immediate area are to go to Georgia or Belarus. But Georgia is stricter than here and Belarus is not that much easer,” she added.
Our child has missed a year of school
However, one organisation outside of the country has stepped in to offer its help.
Canada-based Rainbow Road, which helped the gay men targeted in the devastating Chechnya purge have offered the family help to relocate.
“We contacted RR directly, and we are in conversation with them about getting help,” said Esenia.
Ukraine is shifting politically. Although it was difficult for the pair before, the little legalisation that has been in place to protect LGBT+ people may soon fall by the wayside.
Similar to the law that is in place in Russia, a gay propaganda law may soon be coming to the country – which will ban all public mention of LBGT+ people – and even Pride marches.
“We hope that they can offer us the advice we need. We are still here and we don’t know what to do next. We can’t stay in Ukraine if that law comes into action. “It’s simple – if we stay here we could die,” she said.
“Even if things don’t get that bad, we can’t have our child lose out on her education. She’s missed a whole year of school so far,” she added.
We are saving everything people give us. Our own work means we can just about survive
“it’s tough, but we keep hoping and now it’s brighter than was month and half before.”
In the meantime, the family are practising their English and teaching their daughter in the hope that she won’t be affected by her year out of formal education.
“Our child keeps on learning at home and we are trying upgrade our English knowledge,” said Esenia.
“We do really hope that everything will be better, that we will find our home soon, because living like this is extremely hard.”
I should say we didn’t spend money people sending us on living, we saving everything. So we still working doing our small freelance jobs. We can only work online. Our own work means we can just about survive,” she said.
“our lgbt family is the best family”
In spite of all of the doubt, stress and difficulty, Esenia said that one thing has remained consistent – the strength and support of the LGBT+ community.
“One Russian person in Ukraine got in touch with us to offer us a studio flat to rent, which has been such a relief,” she said.
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“We asked people to share story in tumblr and it received thousands of shares on Tumblr,” she said.
With 8000 shares to date, speaking out about their hardship has secured the family funding beyond their wildest imagination.
Esenia said its her family, both inside and outside of the home, that keep them having hope.
“I should say that so many people are heard us and trying to help with advice and money. So many people have been in touch tell us to keep on fighting, and it’s making our life a little better,” she said.
“But we already knew our LGBT family is the best family around.”