News Brief

Russian Anti-Gay Vigilantes Find New Home in Ukraine

A series of arrests in Ukraine revealed a growing wave of violence against the country’s gay community by anti-gay, and often also far-right, vigilante groups who have links to Russia, reported Hromadske. Russia’s crackdown on its far-right groups which largely acted with impunity before 2014 has led some to resettle in Ukraine and even seek citizenship.

In Ukraine, groups like Occupy Pedophilia, the White Lion and the Heritage Movement adopt tactics popularized by their Russian partners where they “hunt” gay men under the pretence of “catching” pedophiles. A popular target for the region’s far-right groups, “pedophiles” are often gay men that these groups lure into meetings after contacting them on gay dating websites and apps. The myth that pedophilia and homosexuality are equatable is widely circulated on Kremlin television.

These far-right groups are also organizing informal “anti-pedophile” classes for children as young as four years old, reported Hromadske.

Hromadske identified Michael Oreshnikov as a leader of a far-right cell in the Cheboksary, Russia who fled the country in 2014 and became a Ukrainian citizen with the help of a Ukrainian far-right battalion Azov. Oreshnikov resumed his “pedophile hunt” in Ukraine alongside local far-right groups.

The men hunted by these groups, some of whom are minors, are often extorted by their attackers and serve as an important revenue source for far-right groups. Many of these attacks go unreported because victims are unwilling to go to the police.

“There is not a single law [to protect us], no hate crime legislation and no recognition of the situation,” said Maxim Eristavi, who was once Ukraine’s only openly gay journalist. While most reported cases are not fully investigated, those that do reach court often only result in a hooliganism charge.