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Russian LGBT artists find refuge in Paris – Health and Lifestyle News – Report by AFR

For many Russian LGBT artists, the invasion of Ukraine and the political crackdown that came with it was the last straw. They have found a new home in France with the help of a Parisian charity.

Alexei, a 23-year-old composer, used to believe he could survive President Vladimir Putin’s regime, but when he saw his friends being arrested or fleeing the country after the war, he felt naïve.

“The war has brought me pain, shame and guilt – you tell yourself that you haven’t done enough against this regime,” Alexei, who declined to give his full name, told AFP.

He knew he made the right decision to leave when he heard police had visited the St. Petersburg music school where he was a teacher and accused them of facilitating “LGBT propaganda” over a photo of Alexei Promote who kisses his friend on their Facebook page.

He came to Paris with the help of a self-help group, the Agency of Artists in Exile, and was soon joined by his friend.

The agency set up a hotline for artists from Ukraine and Russia after the invasion and has helped around 100 artists from both countries by providing them with studio space, visas, language courses and psychological support.

When he plays Rachmaninov – a Russian composer – in one of the agency’s rehearsal rooms, Alexei says he is relieved but intimidated.

“I have some freedom here,” he said. “I just don’t know what to do with this freedom.”

– Ukrainians, Russians together –

Others also found the transition difficult.

Angelu, a non-binary fashion designer, lived in constant fear of being beaten up at home and said they were too traumatized to leave their new Paris apartment when they arrived.

It was, perhaps appropriately, a Ukrainian neighbor who approached them and helped them gain confidence to explore the city.

This relationship is reflected in the agency’s workshops, where Russians and Ukrainians work closely together and recently held a joint exhibition.

“The war stops at the workshop doors,” said Judith Depaule, who co-founded the agency in 2016.

It’s an odd mix, she said, since Russians have lost all sense of patriotism and Ukrainians are in the midst of patriotic zeal.

Gena Marvin, 23, arrived at the end of April.

Back in Moscow, the transgender artist worked on “trash art,” using discarded objects to create costumes and sculptures, as well as performances like wrapping her body in duct tape, that “evoke a land where freedom doesn’t exist and where freedom of my body was not allowed”.

Still listed as male in her official documents, Marvin was afraid of being called up to fight in Ukraine and decided to go to an anti-war demonstration after her arrest.

“I don’t have the same fear in France but I’m still nervous because once you get used to the fear you never completely lose it,” she said.

She has thrown herself into her new life. She was seen wrapped in rainbow tape at the Pride March in Paris over the weekend.

Alexei, who is working on the soundtrack for a film about Ukraine, still harbors hope that one day he will be able to return home.

“It is not Russia that is homophobic, only the Russian state,” he said.

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