Gay Russian man ‘ashamed’ of his country says Putin ‘disconnected from reality’

Protester hold a 'gay clown' poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the demonstration of LGBT Associations, in front of the Russian Embassy in Rome. The picture has been shared since the invasion of Ukraine

A gay Russian man has said he feels “ashamed” of his country over its invasion of Ukraine – and believes it’s only happening because Putin is “scared of democracy”. 

More than 400 civilian deaths have been recorded since Putin launched his war on Ukraine less than two weeks ago, while two million have fled the country as the war continues to escalate.

Like many other Russians, Mikhail (not his real name) is vehemently opposed to the invasion. He is one of those who have taken to the streets to protest his country’s actions, but he’s also keenly aware that criticising Russia comes with a price. More than 4,300 people have already been arrested for protesting, and the government is clamping down on those who spread what they claim is “false” information about the war with a new law.

Mikhail, 33, has been “lucky” so far in that he’s managed to avoid arrest. The problem is that he feels like he’s in a minority – Russian propaganda is so far-reaching that most people don’t really know what’s going on in Ukraine.

“Most of the people here are in a state of sleep or something,” Mikhail says. “We don’t have a free media, we don’t have many journalists. It did not happen one day – it was step by step. Last week, they closed the last free television channel. 

“Most people don’t care because they don’t have much money – they’re just thinking about what they’ll eat this month and if they’ll be able to feed their children, so they believe the propaganda. Right now, it’s like a dream. Most people just continue their lives and they don’t understand.”

A gay couple holding hands. The picture shows solidarity with the people of Ukraine

A gay couple holding hands. (Getty)

Mikhail has always refused to simply accept what the Putin regime tells him. He’s been protesting against the Russian president’s rule for a decade – as a gay man, he knows that his right to live freely is constantly under threat in Russia. As a result, he’s always sought independent information on what Russia is doing abroad, and he’s particularly careful to avoid Russian propaganda about Ukraine

“Russian propaganda is all about 100 per cent lying,” Mikhail explains. “Anything they say, the truth is the opposite.”

They’re scared of democracy, they’re scared of people who can go into the streets and change everything.

He has been closely following Russia’s actions in Ukraine for some time. He watched in horror in 2014 as his country invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula. 

“The war is wrong and the worst part is we’re like Germany in 1939 because we are the bad side,” Mikhail says. “Any war is bad, but this war has no reason at all – the only reason is that Ukrainians democratically changed their government and that’s why our government hates it. They’re scared of democracy, they’re scared of people who can go into the streets and change everything, change the government and change the president.

“I see people who suffer just because our crazy president wants to make a new Soviet Union. Everyone here who’s protesting, we’re asking, why? I think our government is so disconnected from reality.”

I know Ukraine will win because the truth always wins.

Mikhail could face repercussions if he went on the record to criticise Russia – it’s why PinkNews is withholding his real name. In an email, he said he is risking his life and his freedom by speaking out against his country’s assault on Ukraine.

He is worried for his future right now – but he says those concerns shouldn’t be the focus “as long as the bombs are falling on Kharkiv, Kyiv and lots of other peaceful cities of Ukraine”.

Mikhail wants Ukrainian people to know that Russians like him support their cause. He hopes the war will end soon.

“I know Ukraine will win because the truth always wins. I know they will be free, I know they will join Europe. 

“I hope they will hold on and that Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community will be free and will be part of the nation.” 

Two million have fled Ukraine – but 40 million people remain

While Russia remains trapped in its own web of disinformation, much of the world has united in its condemnation of the country’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Many people have already fled Ukraine, but countless others have opted to stay. Some are choosing to stay so they can fight for their country’s freedom, while others are adamant that they won’t be driven out of their homes by Russian forces.

Last week, two trans men spoke to PinkNews to share their first-hand experience of living through war.

“I don’t really want to leave my home,” Franz, 18, said. “Everything I care about his here and I want to do anything I can. I can be more helpful here. While it’s probably not happening any time soon, in case there is fighting on the streets, I hope that I can take part.”

Oleksandra, 19, said: “I was thinking about moving to another country a few years ago but right now, I don’t want to leave Ukraine – even if it’s difficult, because it’s my country, it’s my people. I have friends here.”

While they don’t want to leave, countless others have made the momentous decision to flee. The United Nations said on Tuesday (8 March) that two million people had left Ukraine, with the lion’s share crossing over the border into Poland.

Those people are leaving Ukraine in search of safety and security – but for the 40 million people left behind, Russia’s brutal war means uncertainty and instability will continue to reign supreme.