Gay man in hiding from Russian police after explaining sexuality to kids in innocent viral video

Gay man Maxim Pankratov

A gay Russian man who took part in a YouTube video where children asked him about his sexuality has been forced to go into hiding after authorities opened a criminal case against him.

Maxim Pankratov took part in the Real Talk video series and was asked unscripted questions by four children aged between six and 13 about his experiences as a gay man.

However, the video was immediately removed due to Russia’s “gay propaganda” law – and now, Pankratov has said that he has been forced to go into hiding over the furore.

“It was a normal conversation about my life and they want to put me in jail,” the 22-year-old told CNN.

Gay man Maxim Pankratov did not discuss sex with the children – but authorities are calling the conversation abusive.

“I thought it was a normal conversation with children, there was no discussion of sex,” Pankratov said. “It was about what it’s like to be a gay man in Russia and how I live. We wanted to show society that you can be tolerant.”

But Russian authorities didn’t see it that way. Earlier this month, the country’s Investigative Committee (Russia’s top law enforcement body) opened a criminal case against Pankratov where they claim that the video amounted to “violent acts of a sexual nature,” according to Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti.

I thought it was a normal conversation with children, there was no discussion of sex.

Pankratov has received “terrible” threats through social media since the video was published and for the time being, will remain in an undisclosed location.

The video initially had a positive response.

Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law makes it illegal to portray same-sex relations as socially acceptable in any way. The Human Rights Watch said this case is a “particularly disturbing example” of the law being used as a tool for discrimination and intimidation.

Earlier this month, Pankratov told Human Rights Watch that the video initially had a positive reaction, with viewers’ comments suggesting that it had “made [people] understand that gay people are no different from them”.

But after the video was reported he became subject to death threats and attempted physical attacks.

“The perniciousness of the ‘gay propaganda’ law apparently knows no boundaries. A criminal charge of sexual assault of children for a YouTube video that contained no sexual content is as outrageous as it is terrifying,” said Kyle Knight, senior LGBT+ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The ‘gay propaganda’ law has created both a climate of fear for LGBT people in Russia, and a climate of impunity for their attackers,” Knight added.