According to a 2016 report, Violation of LGBTI Rights in Crimea and Donbass, by Anti-Discrimination Center Memorial and Kiev-based Center for Civil Liberties, social attitudes “changed under the influence of Russian homophobic propaganda” and the community “became more secretive” in Crimea. It notes several cases where homophobic locals would lure members of the LGBT community to meet with them, only to humiliate them and beat them up. As homophobic norms were spreading across the peninsula, support services were disappearing. According to the report, Crimea only had one NGO on the ground that worked with the LGBT community and its organizers left when Russia came. Russian LGBT groups, meanwhile, haven’t expanded their operation to Crimea because they don’t recognize its annexation, the report states.
Last month ADC Memorial documented the first case of torture of a gay man on the peninsula, dating back to the fall of 2014.
In a five-minute video, the man, who only identifies himself as Alexander, provides a harrowing account of being taken to his district police station, beaten and raped.
He said the officers handcuffed him, knocked out his teeth, bruised his ribs and left him with spinal problems. The 34-year-old said he also now suffers from post-traumatic syndrome.
While at the station, Alexander said he saw a list of names—including his. Some of the others he recognized as members of the LGBT community.
He said amid the torture, the officers pulled out paperwork, forcing him to sign over ownership of his home. “They just shove the papers in front of face, beat you and say, ‘If you don’t sign, we’ll kill you. No one will even look for you.’ I tried to resist but what could I do?” he told The Daily Beast in a phone interview.
Alexander had lived alone then. His parents had died. So had a friend, after being similarly targeted by police a few months earlier. “They planted drugs on him and put him in jail. They say he committed suicide there. But I don’t believe that,” he said.
Alexander signed the papers and fled to Odessa, where a middleman helped him apply for a Polish visa. From there, he started making his way to the Netherlands, where he applied for asylum.
But in the Netherlands, Alexander’s application was rejected. In part, he said, because he didn’t have any proof of what had happened. “You need documents confirming that something happened. But I had nowhere to go. I just fled,” he said. “Under that system, you go [to the hospital] for battery and the medical staff are obligated to call the police. And who will come then? Those same police officers who beat me.”
He said he knows other Ukrainians who have successfully sought asylum in Europe with assistance from LGBT groups in cities like Kiev. “But Crimea had nothing like that,” he sighed.
ADC Memorial’s Inessa Sakhno said while LGBT people are not the only group persecuted by authorities on the peninsula, they are an especially easy target. “This group is less protected because they don’t turn to police or rights groups and don’t organize protests because it’s unacceptable to talk about these things,” she said.