BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Anastasia Domini and wife Anna Domini walked hand in hand on a recent sunny day in the Argentine capital as their four restless children played nearby.
It is a normal occurrence 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 terror they felt when they first decided to hold hands after leaving Russia, which explicitly banned same-sex marriage in 2020.
“It was really scary,” said Anastasia Domini, but “we looked around and really, really nobody was looking.”
For the Dominis, who changed their surnames so they could more convincingly pretend to be sisters in Russia, the walk was an example of how much their lives had changed since moving, joining an increasing number of LGBTQ+ Russians who decided to leave their homeland. to leave and settle in Russia. Argentina to escape discrimination and the war with Ukraine.
Over the past decade, it has become increasingly difficult to be an open member of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia.
In December 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a law that significantly expanded restrictions on activities considered to promote LGBTQ+ rights in the country, building on a law that had been in place since 2013 and that independent researchers say led to a wave of violence against sexual minorities.
More recently, the Kremlin has even partially framed the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine as a way to defend conservative values against Western promotion of gay and transgender rights.
Argentina’s LGBT Federation has received about 130 inquiries from Russians seeking refuge in Argentina over the past year and a half, 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, head of the organization’s international relations department.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are not the only Russians coming to Argentina. In January, 4,523 Russians entered Argentina, more than four times the number of the 1,037 who arrived in the same month last year, according to government figures. Some 22,200 Russians entered Argentina in 2022, including a large number of pregnant women who have flown to the country to give birth, in part to get passports that will open more doors.
For at least some of the Russians who arrived 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, ages 5 and 8, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, first moved to Nepal in an attempt to get a British visa. After several fruitless months, they decided to move to Argentina in September.
It “feels so safe here for me,” said Boyarsky, pointing out that he has yet to tell his kids he is trans because “it felt too dangerous for them” to know that at home, as there is a common belief that “there is not being gay”. in Russia.”
Two years after Argentina passed marriage equality in 2010, Congress passed a groundbreaking gender identity law that codified rights for transgender people, including the ability to change names without medical evaluations.
Boyarsky works as an independent photographer and often shoots at same-sex weddings involving Russian immigrants. At least 34 Russian same-sex couples will be married in Argentina in 2022, and 31 so far this year, according to Argentina’s LGBT Federation.
Boyarsky recently 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 surname to Russia so they could pretend to be sisters.
“It’s a very important moment for us. We’ve been waiting a long time to officially be family,” Nadezhda Skvortosova said after her wedding at the civil registry office in Buenos Aires.
Many of the 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 Argentina’s capital in October when he began to fear being drafted into war.
Shuspan now shares an apartment in downtown Buenos Aires with Dimitry Yarin, a fellow Russian he met through a dating app.
Yarin, 21, said he had long had plans to move to a more tolerant country, but “the war hastened that decision.”
Because of 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 recently tightened controls on Russian migrants following the arrest of two alleged Russian spies with Argentinian passports in Slovenia late last year.
For now, Shuspan is enjoying living openly as gay for the first time. At 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 worry all the time. The only thing you have to worry about is the prices,” Shuspan said, referring to Argentina’s inflation rate — one of the highest in the world — of about 110%.
After a little over a year in Argentina, the Dominis share that sense of relief.
In the northwestern Russian city of Petrozavodsk, Anastasia, 34, and Anna, 44, barely told anyone about their relationship and two twins, ages 3 and 6. There was a constant fear that the 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’re definitely used to our status as married women and that we’re parents of a lot of kids and 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.