Alexander Donskoy, a gay Russian performance artist and former mayor of the city of Arkhangelsk, made headlines this week by flying a giant rainbow flag toward the Kremlin in Moscow as an act of protest.
The flag, which was lifted by dozens of rainbow-colored balloons in Manezhnaya Square, sent a clear message to the Russian government, which continues to enforce a so-called "gay propaganda" law since 2013 that prohibits "promotion" of anything outside of what they consider traditional family values to minors.
Notably, the law has been used to fine and in some cases jail LGBTQ+ people for simply expressing themselves as they are.
Donskoy, who was mayor from 2005 to 2008, is no stranger to controversy. While he was in office, he became the first Russian political of national recognition to announce a run for the presidency in the 2008 race.
Around that time, in 2007, he was arrested on accusations of economic crimes and abuse of power. He ultimately was sentenced to three years probation, but there are many who claim his arrest was politically motivated.
During his absence from the political sphere, Donskoy has become known as an artist and gallery owner. He came out as gay in October 2017 and has since used his voice to shed light on Putin's anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.
In an interview with Novaya Gazeta, the former mayor explained that by flying the rainbow flag near the Kremlin he is sending a message to Putin, who in recent weeks criticized foreign embassies for hanging Pride flags outside their buildings.
Furthermore, he wanted to acknowledge that his gallery, which is in Moscow, was destroyed by unknown assailants.
Earlier this year, Donskoy unveiled images his "Putin is Russia?" project in Istanbul before police forced him to take it down. The project, which displayed Putin as a "superhero" was intended to show the good ties between the cities of Ankara and Moscow despite political differences.
"I wanted to draw attention to how Putin is taken in Russia: like a superhero. So I wrote on portraits 'Putin is superhero,'" Donskoy said to Reuters.
At the time, Donskoy said he wanted his work to provoke emotions in people and see their reactions.
"There will be more [art displays] in the countries of Western democracy. So I will show that the Russian people consider sanctions against Putin like sanctions against themselves," he said. "So, I am an ambassador of peace."