The Toronto-based LGBT-rights advocacy Rainbow Railroad hosted an online discussion of the HBO documentary Welcome to Chechnya on July 16.
That film, which premiered last month, details both hostilities facing LGBTQ persons in that Russian state, and grassroots efforts to relocate those victims of persecution to other parts of the world, an endeavor in which Rainbow Railroad has been actively engaged. ABC News London Correspondent James Longman moderated the July 16 panel.
Russia has a long history of abuses against its LGBTQ citizens, but the Chechen Republic's history of brutality against that community is especially egregious. Welcome to Chechnya opens with video footage of an assault against a gay couple, and continues with an unflinching depiction of that persecution.
Kimahli Powell, Rainbow Railroad's executive director, praised the film's "sensitivity and urgency," adding that it effectively captured the tensions and dangers that have come to the fore in Chechnya. "It was a very frightening experience navigating the events that were documented."
David France, the film's director, said in the discussions that he made the film to bring the stories out to a larger audience. Not only do government officials, and other Chechens, deny that the atrocities happen, they often deny that LGBTQ Chechens even exist. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a loyal ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, allegedly is behind the persecutions.
"It's a terrifying historical moment in Russia," said France. "…These incredible acts of violence are taking place without impunity."
Welcome to Chechnya depicts the persecution at its height in 2017, but France and Powell emphasized that it continues, with perpetrators becoming more elusive and discrete. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened problems for LGBTQ Chechens since now they can't leave the country even if they can marshal the resources to get out.
David Isteev, an activist who coordinated many of the rescues hopes they can find refuge in embassies and eventually get to a welcoming country such as Canada.
"It's important that no one is silent," said Isteev.
Welcome to Chechnya can be viewed online for free at itsh.bo/2ZJfsqh. The link also contains information about where to provide financial assistance.