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A Russian town shrugs at the murder of an elderly gay couple

Meduza
A playground in the town of Ilsky
A playground in the town of Ilsky
Wikimapia

In a special report for Novaya Gazeta, correspondent Elena Kostyuchenko traveled to the town of Ilsky in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai to learn about the murder of an elderly gay couple. She found a community where homophobia is so common and accepted that many locals don't even hide their relief to be rid of two men who enjoyed a loving relationship. Meduza summarizes Kostyuchenko's report below.

On January 10, neighbors reluctantly checked in on 70-year-old Vladimir Dubentsov and 64-year-old Nikolai Galdin and discovered their bodies. People in Ilsky repeatedly asked Novaya Gazeta correspondent Elena Kostyuchenko not to name them in her story — not because they were ashamed of how these two men were harassed or even murdered, but because they were embarrassed that a gay couple lived in their town at all.

Many in Ilsky don’t conceal their hatred of Dubentsov and Galdin, and complained to Kostyuchenko that the couple was openly gay. Starting roughly five years ago, the two men started feuding with neighbors, and local youths began tormenting and abusing them. The trouble apparently intensified when Dubentsov started lobbying the local government for priority housing that many in the community felt he didn’t deserve. He regularly called local officials, demanding the assistance and entitlements he was owed as the son of a World War II veteran (his mother served in the USSR’s brief naval war against Japan).

Dubentsov reportedly had a tense relationship with the local Cossacks, as well, who allegedly refused to let him join their May 9 Victory Day March as the son of a veteran, claiming that his homosexuality made him “less than a man.” The group’s leader, Ataman Viktor Pikalov, denies these rumors. Pikalov says he met Dubentsov twice: once to help him when his home flooded, and a second time when he asked for help being buried beside his mother. The Cossack elder even took Kostyuchenko to a former factory dormitory where some of the town’s gay men apparently live, in order to demonstrate his supposed benevolence toward the LGBTQ community.

While Kostyuchenko was in Ilsky, detectives told her that homophobia was the most likely motive for the double homicide. Police working the case had interviewed all the known gay men in town, and the senior investigator joked to Kostyuchenko that the murders might have been a crime of passion committed by a jealous lover. The victims had just received their pensions, but the killer left the money and everything else in the house. In connection with the case, police interrogated the neighbor’s son, Alexander Panteleenko — a 53-year-old unmarried, childless, nearly blind man, whose detention mortified his mother. When he was released after three days, Panteleenko’s biggest concern was that the town would think he is gay, like Dubentsov and Galdin.

After Kostyuchenko left Ilsky, police arrested 23-year-old Alexander Fet-Ogly for the murders. Previously incarcerated for burglary, Fet-Ogly has history with the local Cossacks: as a teenager, he traveled to Krymsk in 2012 with the group and helped with flood relief efforts. Fet-Ogly’s father was also a Cossack member. The young man was arrested a day before he was due to ship out for contract military service. He’s confessed to the killings, claiming that Dubentsov and Galdin made a pass at him while they were all drinking together, and he “defended himself.” “It seems he went a bit overboard,” the police told Kostyuchenko.

On January 13, Dubentsov’s remains were laid to rest next to his mother's grave. Galdin’s body is still at the town morgue, as officials search for his relatives. He won’t be buried beside his long-time partner.

Report by Novaya Gazeta's Elena Kostyuchenko

Summary by Kevin Rothrock