When Andrey Vaganov’s 12-year-old son complained of stomach pains in June, the ambulance rushed him to one of Russia’s top pediatric hospitals. The ache turned out to be nothing, but while there, the child told the hospital staff that he and his brother don’t have a mother who lives with them — they have two fathers.
The revelation that Vaganov and his partner, Evgeny Erofeyev, have been raising their adopted sons together for nearly a decade put them squarely in the crosshairs of the Russian authorities. Since then, the couple have had to flee the country with their two sons, accused of breaking Russia’s infamous “gay propaganda law” simply by letting their children know that they are married. The law, which makes teaching minors about LGBTQ issues illegal, didn’t pass until 2013, years after the children were adopted. Since then, it has been used as a weapon against the LGBTQ community in Russia more broadly, allowing for state-sanctioned harassment of activists and persecution of individuals like Vaganov and Erofeyev.
In an interview with Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter with Meduza, an independent Russian-language news outlet, the couple explained how they became targets of Russia’s anti-gay laws. Vaganov had adopted his elder son, Denis, in 2009, and then his second, Yuri, two and a half years later. It was around that time that Vaganov met and soon married Erofeyev, a businessman like himself, in a ceremony in Denmark, which recognizes same-sex marriages.
“We never asked our children to hide anything,” Vaganov told Meduza. “This was our conscious position, explaining why is it somehow stigmatizing and so on.” But Yuri’s admission to the hospital staff was a complication — before the child left the hospital, Vaganov was told that he and his son would need to report to the police the next morning to answer some questions. The two showed up as requested to meet with an investigator and a juvenile affairs official, with Vaganov insisting that his lawyer be present.
By the time the first interview was over, what had started as a false alarm caused by Yuri eating too much had become a news story. While carrying out his questioning, Vaganov said, the investigator handling the “preinvestigation check” frequently had to step out of the room to speak with his superiors. Soon Vaganov’s phone began to ring with journalists who had learned about the situation from a Telegram channel known for publishing confidential details about Russian law enforcement’s investigations.
Yuri was ordered to undergo a physical exam to rule out abuse, an act that was traumatic for the child, Vaganov said. The results, he was told, wouldn’t be ready until mid-July because required specialists were on vacation. In the car on the way back home, Vaganov was shown the first articles about their case, which claimed that a gay couple had raped a child. The next day, Erofeyev and his lawyer were also brought in to speak with the investigator.
A few days later, Denis, who is now 14 years old, was also called in for an interview. The family’s lawyer put them on alert to leave Russia at a moment’s notice, since the forensic tests — no matter the result — would be taken as part of a “molestation” case — which, in Russian legalese, doesn’t imply sexual violence or even physical contact with the child. It did, however, mean that protective services would almost certainly try to place their children in foster care.
Things got worse when the director of the pediatric hospital where Yuri was examined, who is close with the head of Russia’s main investigative body and is outspokenly anti-gay, allegedly got involved, elevating the case even further.
“We never asked our children to hide anything.”
When, a few days later, the authorities suggested that Yuri be turned over to a state-owned rehabilitation center while the case was investigated, Erofeyev and Vaganov decided it was time to get out of Russia. Not long after they packed their bags and left the country with their sons, investigators demanded that they turn themselves in for questioning. At one point, according to Vaganov, the authorities were considered charging the couple with murder of the children if they didn’t show up, even though Yuri’s forensic testing showed no signs of physical abuse.
Their case has only gotten more dire in the last month. On July 15, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian Parliament gave a speech denouncing gay adoptions as the potential end of mankind. The next day, the federal Investigative Committee opened a case against the agency that had allowed Vaganov to adopt his children in the first place.
Neither Vaganov nor Erofeyev is a defendant or witness in the case against the adoption agency, and no charges have been officially pressed against them — yet. ●
You can read the full interview with the couple in Russian on Meduza's website.
Russia's anti-gay propaganda law makes teaching minors about LGBTQ issues illegal, but does not prescribe jail time. A previous version of the article said the law criminalized those actions.