In Southeastern Europe, in a small Russian-controlled Republic called Chechnya, there is a brutal genocide taking place. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are being systematically hunted, detained, tortured, and executed by Chechen authorities, civilians, and their own family members. Most people are completely unaware of this due to the fact that both the Chechen and Russian governments refuse to acknowledge any of the atrocities occurring within their borders. The story of the victims fleeing for their lives and the courageous activists helping them along the way was the topic of our quarterly Advocate’s Film Club, and earlier this year we discussed David France’s heart wrenching documentary, Welcome to Chechnya (2020).
The film centers around the Russian LGBT Network, a conglomerate of advocates across Russia and the surrounding Republics under its control who work to protect members of the LGBTQ community facing persecution. France and his team filmed the documentary undercover alongside these advocates, following them on their journey as they extract victims from Chechnya and move them through safe houses before they reach a country that will grant them asylum. The filmmakers use groundbreaking “Deepfake” technology to digitally alter the appearances of their subjects, thus allowing them to personally tell the stories of the horrible crimes they’ve been victims of. These accounts, combined with footage acquired by advocates showing brutal hate crimes, shed light on the dire situation occurring in Chechnya. Ramzan Kadyrov is the Vladimir Putin-appointed strongman who currently runs Chechnya, and he is an ardent homophobe. Kadyrov has stated on the record that there is no violence against homosexuals in Chechnya, because there are no homosexuals in Chechnya. He continues by saying that even if there were homosexuals in Chechnya, the shame would be so unbearable for their families that the family would “take care of them” to protect the family’s honor.
Kadryov’s approval of violence against the LGBTQ community ignited a wildfire of hate crimes across the country, and Welcome to Chechnya follows some of these victims over the course of their journey to freedom. One such victim, who the film makers referred to as “Anya,” was the daughter of a Chechen politician and identifies as lesbian. Anya’s uncle found out about her sexual orientation, and demanded that she have sex with him in exchange for his silence. The Russian LGBT Network was able to successfully extract her from Chechnya, and relocate her to a safe house in an undisclosed country. Unfortunately, Anya chose to leave protective custody after six months of hiding and her current whereabouts are unknown. Stories like Anya’s are far too common among the LGBTQ community in Chechnya, and due to the government’s refusal to acknowledge any of the hate crimes occurring within their borders we will never know the true extent of this violence. Without pressure from the outside world, women like Anya will continue to be under constant persecution, and it is only through the bravery of the Russian LGBT Network and David France and his team that this story could be brought to light.
Welcome To Chechnya is available for streaming on HBO Max, and due to the graphic nature of the subject matter viewer discretion is strongly advised.