BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Anastasia Domini and his wife Anna Domini walked hand in hand on a recent sunny day in the Argentine capital while their four restless children played nearby.
It’s a common sight in a country where same-sex marriage has been legal for more than a decade. But the couple, who married shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires early last year, still remember the fear they felt when they first decided to hold each other hand in public after leaving Russia, which explicitly banned same-sex marriages in 2020.
“It was really scary,” Anastasia Domini said, but “we were looking around and really, really no one was looking.”
For the Dominis, who changed their surnames so they could more convincingly claim to be sisters in Russia, the walk illustrated how much their lives had changed since moving, joining a growing number of LGBTQ+ Russians who have decided to leave their homeland and settle down. Argentina to escape discrimination and war with Ukraine.
Over the past decade, living openly as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia has become increasingly difficult.
In December 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that significantly expanded restrictions on activities deemed to promote LGBTQ+ rights in the country, building on a law that had been in place since 2013 and which, according to independent researchers, led to an upsurge in sexual violence. minorities.
More recently, the Kremlin even framed the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine in part as a way to defend conservative values against Western promotion of gay and transgender rights.
The Argentinian LGBT Federation has received about 130 inquiries over the past year and a half from Russians seeking refuge in Argentina, more than any other nationality.
“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 organization’s international relations department.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community aren’t the only Russians coming to Argentina. In January, 4,523 Russians entered Argentina, more than four times the 1,037 who arrived 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 to give birth, in part 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.
Mark Boyarsky, a 38-year-old trans man who left Moscow with his wife and two children, aged 5 and 8, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, said first settled in Nepal in order to obtain a British visa. After several fruitless months, they decide to move to Argentina in September.
“It’s so safe for me here,” Boyarsky said, noting that he hasn’t yet told his kids he’s trans because “it was too dangerous for them” to know that in their home. , given that 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 the rights of transgender people, including the ability to change one’s name without needing to medical evaluations.
Boyarsky works as a freelance photographer and often takes pictures at same-sex weddings involving Russian immigrants. At least 34 Russian same-sex couples married in Argentina in 2022, and 31 so far this year, according to Argentina’s 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 couple had also changed their surnames in Russia so they could pass themselves off as sisters.
“This is a very important moment for us. We have been waiting a very long time to officially be a family,” Nadezhda Skvortosova said after getting married at the Civil Registry in Buenos Aires.
Many Russians arriving in Argentina knew little about the country before moving.
“Tango, Che Guevera, and that it was a Spanish colony,” joked Nikolai Shushpan, a 26-year-old gay man who moved to the Argentine capital in October when he began to fear being drafted into the war.
Shuspan now shares an apartment in downtown Buenos Aires with Dimitry Yarin, a fellow Russian he met on a dating app.
Yarin, 21, said he had long considered moving to a more tolerant country, but “the war accelerated that decision”.
Due to the discrimination they face at home, many Russians arriving in Argentina apply for refugee status, a process that can take up to three years.
Authorities have recently tightened controls on Russian migrants after the arrest of two Russian spies suspected of holding Argentine passports in Slovenia late last year.
For now, Shuspan enjoys living openly as a gay man for the first time. With us, there was always tension and the feeling “that something could happen”.
“The only country where I haven’t felt that is here. You don’t have to worry all the time. The only thing you have to worry about is prices,” Shuspan said, referring to Argentina’s inflation rate – one of the highest in the world – of around 110%.
After just over a year in Argentina, the Dominis share that sense of relief.
In the northwestern Russian city of Petrozavodsk, Anastasia, 34, and Anna, 44, have barely told anyone about their relationship and their two sets of twins, aged 3 and 6 years. There was a constant fear that authorities would take their children and put them in an orphanage, Anastasia Domini said.
Now they live without having to worry that someone might take their children or put them in jail.
“We are absolutely used to our status as married women and the fact that we are parents to a lot of children and that we can be free here,” she said.
Associated Press videographers Victor R. Caivano and Yesica Brumec contributed to this report. AP reporter Elise Morton contributed from London.