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In January 2017, Pavel Stotsko and Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky (also spelled Eugene Wojciechowski) became the first Russian gay couple to have their marriage recognized by the Russian government, albeit by accident. The government backlash forced them to flee for the Netherlands, where they have recently attended a Pride parade, made friends with a gay couple and secured their permanent resident cards, something they call “a ticket to a real life” where they no longer have to hide.
The Russian gay couple say they met on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, and quickly developed a relationship. Stotsko’s parents knew the two men had started living together, but his father didn’t realize that they were gay. His mom knew, but simply called theirs a “friendship.”
They got married in Copenhagen, Denmark on Jan. 4, 2018. And when they returned to Russia, Stotsko called the Register Office and asked if a foreign marriage could be accepted in Russia. After checking the federal Family Code, Stotsko learned that their marriage could technically be recognized because they had a marriage certificate.
The Russian gay couple then went to a government office that records marriages and provides passport stamps officially recognizing citizens’ marriages. They got the stamp easily.
Stotsko says, “At the time, the woman who did it saw that there were two men in front of her, but she wasn’t in any way shocked.”
The Russian gay couple became famous as they went on Russian news programs to discuss how they got the country to recognize their union. But when the office where they got their stamps was questioned by federal authorities, the office denied what it had done.
Next, plainclothes officers began banging on their door. Their internet and power got cut off and the government sent them a letter declaring their passports as invalid. People began contacting them, issuing death threats and warning them about the seriousness of what they’d done. Soon, both men had packed their things and fled to the Netherlands.
Now, Stotsko is trying to get his Russian certification as a surgeon recognized in the country while Voitsekhovsky continues to study medicine. They talk to their parents regularly online and have made friends with an older local gay couple as part of their language learning classes for Dutch and English.
When asked whether they thought it was naive to suspect that the law would protect their marriage despite the anti-LGBTQ animus of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Stotsko replied, “If we remember Putin’s words, he always likes to say, that in Russia everything follows the law. Now we understand that, yes, it was naive to follow the law in Russia because laws don’t work there.”
Voitsekhovsky said that the couple recently went to a Pride parade, a new experience for them.
“We went to gay parade in Amsterdam and there we could hold hands in public for the first time in the street because we saw same-sex couples — females, males — who were also walking holding hands without any problems. No one was abusing them by shouting insults behind their backs. No one was threatened physically. We know that we are in a safe environment.”