Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky and Pavel Stotsko aren’t just a married gay couple — they were the first married gay couple in Russia after their January marriage was officially recognized by a government official.
But their bliss was short lived, and they were quickly forced to flee the country in fear for their lives.
The couple has been staying ever since in a small town in the Netherlands, where they spoke exclusively to VICE News.
Although gay marriage is illegal in Russia, Voitsekhovsky and Stotsko took advantage of a loophole earlier this year after discovering the government recognizes foreign marriages.
The couple wed in Denmark in January, seven years after they first started dating. On their return to Russia, they took their internal passports to a government office to be officially registered.
To their surprise, registering at the municipality office went off without a hitch.
“They just took our marriage certificate and stamped our passports,” Pavel Stotsko told VICE News. “At the time, the woman that did it saw that there are two men before her, but she wasn’t in any way shocked. She acted by the order they have that marriage registered abroad is recognized in Russia”.
The trouble came afterward, when the couple went on television to talk about their status as Russia’s first married gay couple.
Over the next few days, they say, they were harassed by police and had their domestic passports containing their marriage stamps confiscated and canceled.
On the advice of lawyers — and with the financial support of LGBT activists — Voitsekhovsky and Stotsko fled to Amsterdam, without even saying goodbye to their family. They declared themselves as asylum seekers to police at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, and have been living as refugees ever since.
Last week, after six months of uncertainty and adjustment to life in a place very different to Russia, they received their permanent resident cards.
“We went to gay parade in Amsterdam and there we could hold hands in public for the first time in the street because we saw same sex couples — females, males — who were also walking holding hands without any problems,” said Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky. “No one was abusing them by shouting insults behind their backs. No one was threatened physically. We know that we are in a safe environment.”