The first gay couple to have a marriage recognised in Russia, Eugene Wojciechowski and Pavel Stotsko, are now reportedly on the run and being hunted by Russian police.
Wojciechowski and Stotsko married in a ceremony in Copenhagen at the beginning of January. When they returned home, they did not expect their marriage to be recognised due to the country's anti-LGBTQI policies and homophobia remaining prevalent through Russia.
However, upon reaching Moscow, a government employee stamped their passports, therefore validating their union and confirming their marriage as legal in Russia.
The pair's happiness was dashed just days later however, when police declared that their passports were invalid, and they would be fining them for "intentionally damaging them" - and then attempted to break down the door of the couple's apartment.
The Russian LGBT Network reported that they were told they could not leave their home unless they gave up their passports, and if they tried to leave, they would be charged with resisting the police. The couple was held hostage in their own flat, while police reportedly switched the lights and internet off for hours in an attempt to get them hand their passports over. The deputy head of the Moscow police department, A.A. Zakharov reportedly even attempted to persuade the men to hand over the passports.
Wojciechowski and Stotsko were also reportedly told that if any anti-LGBTQI groups attempted to harm them, the police would not keep them safe.
The Russian LGBT Network - the group responsible for reporting on, and assisting victims of the 'gay purge' occuring in Chechnya - posted to Facebook hours later, confirming that the couple handed over their passports for their own safety, and were now in safe, undisclosed location.
The leader of the network, Igor Kochetkov, told The Moscow Times that the couple had left Russia for safety reasons, and that the police's statement that Wojciechowski and Stotsko would not be protected was a "hidden threat".
“Therefore the decision was made that for now, they must leave Russia,” he said.
"[They] have been forced to leave the Russian Federation. This development was not planned – the real threat to the freedom and security of Paul and Eugene was the only reason for their departure."
In a Facebook post, Stotsko said, "The LGBT network today saved our lives! We’re going for a few days, but we’re still fighting!”
In another post, Stotsko said that the government employee who stamped their passports, confirming the legal status of their marriage in Russia, had been fired. Calling this decision “unacceptable,” Stotsko said that the decision “contradicts the Russian labour code and is an act of intimidation for all employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs”.
Friends of the couple have rallied their support on social media, even starting a petition to stop the persecution of Eugene and Pavel, and calling for the acceptance of all same-sex couples in Russia.