Since publishing her story in Russia’s independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, and turning international ire towards Chechnya for heinous acts and murder against its LGBTQ population, writer Elena Milashina has had to flee Russia following threats to her life.
Dazed caught up with Milashina at an undisclosed location and asked her about new developments in the reporting and investigation of the region’s wide-sweeping arrests, detainment, and murders of LGBTQ people.
Dazed: You were the first to tell of the horrors that gay men in Chechnya are experiencing. What’s the current situation?
Elena Milashina: My sources say detentions continue this very moment, and nobody is being released. This is a huge problem. We basically can't find a way to save those men who were detained in the so-called ‘second wave’ of arrests (after Elena’s first publication of the article). After the story went big, the authorities became afraid to release these men. Imagine, people who were detained on basis of their sexuality have no chance to resume their life in Chechnya anymore, so they are forced to leave. And as they leave they become vocal about the abuse. This seems obvious, but the consequences of this were not clear right away.
Turns out, abuse and torture of LGBT people backfired massively on the Chechen authorities. The victims were cornered, and in order to survive, they are now ready to do anything to fight for their lives, including speaking up publicly about the torture and horrors they went through in Chechnya.
Dazed: Has the world’s attention brought any positive development? I saw your Facebook post yesterday stating that the Investigatory Committee of Russia has finally started the official fact checking for the investigation based on your articles.
Elena Milashina: Yes, the investigators are coming to our editorial office tomorrow to speak to us. We’ve prepared all the evidence.
Dazed: How realistic is it that the investigation will actually be carried out?
Elena Milashina: Look, you know which country we are living in. In Russia, it’s highly unlikely that the investigation will really be done properly. I know the investigator assigned to this case very well. I, unfortunately, cannot reveal his name. But I know he is an amazing expert on Chechnya. And if he is given the command to do so, he will not hesitate to detain everyone involved in this crime, even Kadyrov (Head of the Chechen Republic). We’ll see. What’s important here, is that this is the first time in the last three years that our publication initiated the first stage of a federal investigation. By law, any accusations that carry heinous crime should be immediately checked and then investigated – if there are grounds. But in three years, none of our publications on Chechnya have had such impact. It is a very small, but confident, first win.
Read the full Dazed interview, including the threats to Milashina’s life and how international pressure has helped expose the nature of these crimes, here.