Maxim Drozhzhin: An LGBT Refugee from Russia

Maxim Drozhzhin. Courtesy of RFE/RL

Student expelled from St. Petersburg State University ensemble due to orientation has left Russia 
Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
December 17, 2021

Maxim Drozhzhin, a St. Petersburg State University student who was earlier expelled from the university folklore ensemble due to [his sexual] orientation, has left Russia, he has informed Sever.Realii. According to him, he left Russia because he was “tired of being afraid.”

“It was hard psychologically in Russia. Hurtful. You study for eight years, you try hard, you get an education, but then you can’t get a job anywhere. They check my social networks and it turns out that I don’t suit them because I’m gay. It’s crazy: you’re not even fit for an amateur group. I’ve also been accused of being an LGBT propagandist and a libertine. It all started at St. Petersburg State University: my department didn’t treat me very well. Everyone knew about the conflict with the ensemble,” Drozhzhin said.

The student added that there are “strong negative sentiments” in Russian society towards people or phenomena that are “disliked” by the authorities.

“Yesterday I called my mom for the first time and said that I had left. The first thing she asked me was, ‘I hope not to Ukraine?’ A lot of bad things are said about Ukraine, and people have a negative image [of it]. It’s the same thing with LGBT people. They can easily label me as a propagandist: they would start writing nasty things about me in the pro-government media, and people would treat me differently. Although I’m not even an LGBT activist—I don’t go on pickets, I don’t work in [LGBT] organizations, I just do creative work. I don’t hide my orientation. In Russia today, if you do not hide your orientation, you’re automatically an activist,” Drozhzhin said.

Maxim is currently living in a refugee center in a European country. (He did not specify where exactly.) According to the student, the conditions there are “very good,” even better than in the St. Petersburg State University dormitory where he had lived. He is the only Russian speaker in the center. He communicates with everyone in “broken” English.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Whether I will be given [refugee] status or not is still unclear. They can say no, go back. But I don’t want to go back. It’s very hard for me in Russia,” Drozhzhin explains.

The student said that in Russia he had received threats from Timur Bulatov, the well-known homophobic activist.

“He wrote to me that they would not do anything physical to me, but they would punish me by law. After that, a certain Zhilina immediately filed a complaint against me with four different officials, and a probe into my posts on social networks was launched,” Maxim says.

He does not know the result of the police probe. Due to his departure he had “dropped out of life” and had not communicated with anyone about it.

In November, the police began probing Maxim Drozhzhin’s social media posts for “LGBT propaganda.” Drozhzhin, after consulting with a lawyer, refused to write an explanatory statement at the dormitory and asked the police to send a summons. Consequently, the student was summoned to the police department. There he learned that the complaint against him had been filed by Nadezhda Zhilina, head of the nonprofit We Are for Change. Zhilina explained to Sever.Realii that she had sent identically worded complaints to Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, and St. Petersburg State University Rector Nikolai Kropochev. In the complaint, Zhilina, on behalf of the “parental, patriotic and Orthodox community,” requested a probe into Drozhzhin for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations, dissemination of personal information, [and] extremist activities directed against the country’s constitutional system.” In addition, she asked officials for information about Drozhzhin’s sources of income and requested that he be declared an individual “foreign agent media outlet.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

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