Escape From Russia

Love Conquers All: Elena on the left, with Meg, her Canadian lover, on the right.

It seems like each day brings us face to face with a new, harrowing story from out of Russia. Since the passing of the controversial “gay propaganda” law in 2013, the country, under Putin’s infamous anti-gay leadership, has become more and more hostile to same-sex love. Queer communities in Russia do all they can to stay afloat and keep each other sane. Still, more and more, it’s seeming like the best thing that queer people in Russia can do is get out.

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That’s what Elena, a Russian woman from a Moscow-adjacent town known as “the city of brides,” decided to do when she realized she couldn’t live a lie anymore. Elena had always known she wasn’t straight. She’d also been well aware that her desire to be with a woman would not make for an easy life in her home country. In a recent article, Elena told a reporter for Prospekt Magazine that she had done all she could to hide who she was, including trying to look like a “proper woman” according to her mother, who encouraged her to wear high heels and makeup and to “catch” a man.

When Elena turned to the Internet for companionship, she found Meg, a Canadian lesbian with whom she felt an instant connection.

Six months passed, and the time came for Meg and Elena to meet in person. Ukraine was the destination. Elena packed her bags, told her parents she was headed to the Opera and made up her mind to never return. She kept this mission a secret even from Meg herself.

This was in 2006, well before the political situation in Russia would reach its homophobic nadir. Still, when Elena made the initial leap, it was with a deeply prescient sense of how bad things would get in her homeland. She knew had further to go. After fighting with her parents and telling them she wanted to stay in Kiev with Meg, Elena lost her passport and had to plan a seabound escape, from Kiev to Turkey and across the North Pacific into Canada. The journey took ten months by boat.

By 2007, the couple arrived in Canada, where Elena received refugee status. This past April marked the ten year anniversary of the couple’s escape. In Elena’s new book, “Talking to the Moon,” she tells the full story of what she did for love, in stunning detail. It’s a book we need right about now, if only to remind us that there still such things as happy endings.

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