Art: Anya Leonova / Mediazona
Last month the police in Sochi, the Black Sea resort city that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, detained 20-year-old model Alina Milova from Moscow and her friend, 23-year-old Veronika Mikhailova (both names changed) from Krasnodar, for sharing a kiss on a public bench. The two were charged with “promoting non-traditional relationships” and were held overnight. The head of the department spent an hour scouring through one of the girl’s messages, attempting to find proof of her “non-traditional orientation.” This incident seems to be the first known case of persecution merely for a kiss in public. Both women maintain they are not a couple and kissed simply “for fun.”
On the evening of August 2nd, Alina and Veronika were taking a stroll in the Lazarevskoye district of Sochi. Their path led them towards the Psezuapse river. They occasionally stopped at benches, taking moments to sip their wine. It was during one such pause that they shared the kiss.
Shortly after, two police officers approached and instructed the women to accompany them to a nearby police station, which was conveniently located close to a courthouse and the local Sochi FSB department. Initially, the officers mentioned a “drug check” as the reason for their detention, Veronika recalls. An attempt was made to have them medically examined, but the hospital was closed. At the police station, the real reason behind the officers’ interest was revealed: the friends might be “promoting non-traditional sexual relations”, a conclusion drawn from that brief kiss. The starting fine for such an accusation is 50,000 rubles.
“In the Sochi precinct, we were the first to be charged like this. They were pretty unfamiliar with it; they even googled it in our presence,” remarked Alina.
It’s not clear if the police took notice of the kiss or if someone reported it. While the women did not deny the kiss, they explained that they were not a couple, reiterating that the kiss was simply “for fun”. “The evening was quite ordinary, save for our drunken kiss,” Veronika commented.
Alina Milova, a 20-year-old model from Moscow, visited Sochi in early August for a few days to catch up with her friend Veronika Mikhailova, who was working part-time as a cook in a local café. Alina and Veronika share a close friendship, but according to one of them, they aren’t in a romantic relationship. Alina mentions that she doesn’t identify with the LGBTQ+ community. “I don’t want to confine myself within specific boundaries. I simply do what feels right. While I’m predominantly attracted to men, I sometimes find women appealing too,” she clarifies.
Inside the police department, the friends were separated. Alina was at the office of the department head, while Veronika engaged in a heated discussion with the policeman about her civil rights, refusing to hand over her passport. Police officers began to make light of her appearance, particularly her short haircut, suggesting she “looked like a boy”. As the situation escalated, they handcuffed her.
“They started arguing with me. I started arguing with them,” Veronika recounted. “I have a principle of not handing my passport to the police. One of them tried to snatch it away, and I snatched it back. Then he began twisting my arm, while others tried to restrain me. I slightly tore his shirt as I clung to it. Next thing I knew, I was handcuffed and pinned against a wall. It was a distressing experience, and no one even bothered to offer me water. I was left lying on the asphalt, in this intense heat.”
While she conceded that she might have been slightly drunk that evening, she attributes her state to a bout of food poisoning from substandard wine. The following day, a court handed her a three-day administrative detention for disobeying the police, which she served in a cell at that very police department. During the court proceedings, Veronika did not admit guilt.
Meanwhile, Alina recalls her own experience. Upon finding herself in the department head’s office, he demanded she unlock her iPhone and display her messages. “I was in a state of shock,” Alina remembered. “It only dawned on me later that such actions typically require a court order. I tried to resist, but he had the upper hand in that situation. Plus, a part of me hoped that if I didn’t antagonise him, they might just let us go.”
“They began mocking us, hinting that we were 'lesbians'. But, honestly, I don't remember all the specifics,” Alina admitted.
In contrast, the female officers from the same department displayed a more understanding attitude towards the two. They expressed their bewilderment at the reason for the detention. “A couple of the policewomen at the station even said they might have kissed me too. They mentioned that their friends occasionally do the same,” Alina shared.
The department head spent an entire hour scrolling through her Telegram messages, Alina recalls. He posed questions about certain videos, particularly those where Alina’s friend was trying on a dress and some newly purchased lingerie. According to Alina, male officers at the station made snide remarks, mockingly referring to the friends as “lesbians.”
“They began mocking us. That we were ‘lesbians’, blah-blah. But, honestly, I don’t remember all the specifics,” Alina admitted.
In contrast, the female officers from the same department displayed a more understanding attitude towards the two. They expressed their bewilderment at the reason for the detention. “A couple of the policewomen at the station even said they’d kiss me too. They mentioned that their friends occasionally do the same,” Alina shared.
The two women spent the entire night in the same cell, distracting themselves with games like Battleship and diving into a book. By the morning of August 3rd, they were taken to different courts: Veronika was brought forward for not complying with the police, while Alina faced charges of “LGBT propaganda.”
The ordeal of Alina and Veronika seems to mark the first known case in Russia where the police have pursued legal action for “promoting non-traditional sexual relationships” based solely on a public kiss.
The law against LGBTQ+ “propaganda” has been in effect in Russia since 2013, but until recently, it pertained to promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors. In December 2022, the State Duma expanded its scope to include “propaganda” among adults. This change led to the prohibition of numerous films, TV series, and books.
On August 21st, the police initiated an investigation into a photoshoot featuring two women sharing a kiss at the Sulak Canyon in Dagestan. Their photos surfaced on local online forums, where subscribers demanded punitive action against the women, deeming their act a “provocation” and calling for an apology. The investigation’s outcome remains undisclosed.
Previously, Russia has seen cases where individuals of the same sex were penalized for sharing a kiss, but these were framed under laws concerning the offence of religious sentiments. In January 2022, Sergey Kondratyev from Saint Petersburg filmed a video where he kissed another man against the backdrop of the Holy Trinity church. He shared the video on social media, leading the police to initiate legal proceedings. Eventually, Kondratyev was fined 15,000 rubles.
Alina recounts that the judge immediately suggested she submit a petition to have her case transferred to Moscow, where she’s registered. “The judge said, ‘Write the petition so your case is moved to Moscow and you can be released today,’ especially since I mentioned I had a flight to catch and needed things expedited. At the end, she laughed, advised to kiss elsewhere, and mentioned she wouldn’t feel right fining me for this,” Alina shares.
Despite this, Alina, who had a scheduled photoshoot in Moscow, missed her flight. After the court proceedings, the police held her at the station for a while longer, eventually handing her a 500-ruble fine for consuming alcohol in a public place.
Alina Milova’s case was forwarded to one of the courts in Moscow. However, by mid-August, the court returned the protocol to the police. Since then, Alina hasn’t been disturbed by the police, nor has she been summoned to court.
Veronika Mikhailova’s case regarding “LGBT propaganda” from Sochi was also directed to be reviewed in her registered location, Krasnodar. However, she remains in the dark about the specific court and the date of hearing, as nobody informed her. Veronika mentions that she wasn’t even provided with the written protocol; the judge merely skimmed through its content.
“I’d like to attend my trial, but I genuinely don’t understand my current status,” says Veronika. Neither the police nor the court have reached out to her. It’s possible that, much like Alina’s situation, the court chose not to consider the case and sent it back to the police.
While Veronika was in detention for resisting the police, her friends brought her food. But the deliveries never made it to her. Veronika suspects that the police officers might have eaten them.
Editor: Egor Skovoroda
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