LGBTQ Russians flee to Argentina seeking refuge from discrimination, Ukraine war
- Living openly in Russia as a member of the LGBTQ community has grown increasingly difficult in recent years, with additional restrictions in December
- Other Russians are also heading to Argentina; in January 4,523 entered, more than four times the 1,037 that arrived in the same month last year
“It was really scary,” Anastasia said, but “we were looking around and really, really nobody was looking”.
Over the past decade, living openly as a member of the LGBTQ community in Russia has grown increasingly difficult.
“The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has accelerated the decision of many people who were already in a vulnerable situation,” said Maribe Sgariglia, who heads the organisation’s international relations department.
Members of the LGBTQ community are not the only Russians going to Argentina. In January, 4,523 Russians entered the country, more than four times the 1,037 that arrived in the same month last year, according to government figures.
In 2022, some 22,200 Russians entered Argentina, including a large number of pregnant women who flew into the country to give birth, partly in a bid to obtain a passport that opens more doors.
For at least some of the Russians arriving in Argentina, the country was not their first choice.
It “feels so safe for me here”, Boyarsky said, noting he has yet to tell his children he is trans because “it felt too dangerous for them” to know that back home considering there is a general belief that “there are no gays in Russia”.
Two years after marriage equality became law in Argentina in 2010, Congress approved a pioneering Gender Identity Law that codified rights for transgender individuals, including the ability to change names without the need for medical evaluations.
Boyarsky works as an independent photographer and often snaps photos at same-sex weddings involving Russian immigrants.
At least 34 Russian same-sex couples got married in Argentina in 2022, and 31 so far this year, according to the Argentine LGBT Federation.
Recently, Boyarsky photographed the wedding of Nadezhda Skvortosova, 22, and Tatiana Skvortosova, 29, who got married less than a month after moving to Buenos Aires. The pair had also changed their last names in Russia so they could pretend to be sisters.
“It’s a very important moment for us. We’re waiting for very long to be officially family,” Nadezhda Skvortosova said after getting married at a Buenos Aires civil registry.
Many of the Russians who arrive in Argentina knew little about the country before moving.
“Tango, Che Guevara, and that it was a Spanish colony,” joked Nikolai Shushpan, a 26-year-old gay man who moved to Argentina’s capital in October when he started fearing he could be drafted into the war.
Shushpan now shares a flat in downtown Buenos Aires with Dimitry Yarin, a fellow Russian he met on a dating app.
Yarin, 21, said he long had plans to move to a more tolerant country but “the war accelerated that decision”.
Because of the discrimination they face at home, many of the Russians who arrive in Argentina request refugee status, a process that can take as long as three years.
Authorities have increased controls on Russian migrants recently after the arrest of two alleged Russian spies with Argentine passports in Slovenia late last year.
For now, Shushpan is enjoying living openly as a gay man for the first time. Back home, there was always tension and the feeling “that something could happen”.
“The only country where I didn’t feel that is here. You don’t have to be worried all the time. The only thing you have to worry about is prices,” Shushpan said, referring to Argentina’s inflation rate – one of the world’s highest – of about 110 per cent.
After a little more than a year in Argentina, the Dominis share that feeling of relief. In the northwestern Russian city of Petrozavodsk, Anastasia, 34, and Anna, 44, barely told anyone about their relationship and two sets of twins, aged three and six.
There was a constant fear authorities would take their children away and put them in an orphanage, Anastasia Domini said.
Now they live without having to worry that someone could take their kids or put them in prison.
“We’re absolutely used to our status of married women and that we are parents of lots of kids and that we can be free here,” she said.