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Gay parents who left Russia after home searches tell ‘Meduza’ about a happier new life in Seattle

Source: Meduza
Courtesy of Andrey Vaganov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev

In mid-July of 2019, Russia’s Investigative Committee opened a criminal neglect case against a group of Moscow social workers, arguing that the suspects had caused harm to two children by allowing them to be raised by their adoptive fathers. Those two fathers, Andrey Vaganov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, escaped Russia with their sons after security officials searched their apartment and their relatives’ homes. It later came to light that the family’s troubles began when a doctor who was treating the children brought their parents’ same-sex relationship to the attention of security officials.

In September, news emerged that Vaganov and Yerofeyev had requested political asylum in the United States and sent their sons, Denis and Yura, to an American school. Meduza investigative correspondent Ivan Golunov reconnected with them to ask about their new life and the ongoing criminal case surrounding their family.

The two fathers told Meduza that they are not officially associated with the case in any capacity, but their children are still listed as victims. The family’s nanny has been questioned by Moscow officials, they said, about “whether [Vaganov and Yerofeyev] expressed emotions around their children and so on.”

The couple said they have experienced highly inconsistent communications with investigators. For example, when Yura and Denis began attending school in Seattle, their previous school in Moscow sent them a truancy inquiry. They responded with their new address and details about the boys’ new school only to receive another email from prosecutors asking “where the kids are and why they aren’t going to school.” The couple chose not to respond.

Courtesy of Andrey Vaganov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev

Vaganov and Yerofeyev said they traveled to Seattle via Minsk, Kyiv, New York, and Sacramento. In Sacramento, they met with two old friends whose experience reflected their own: Rakhima Mamedova and Marina Stepanova moved from Moscow to the United States with their son , Vanya, after experiencing homophobic and racial persecution. In California, Vanya showed Denis and Yura around his school, and the newcomers’ parents began receiving aid in the asylum process from East Bay Sanctuary Covenant.

It was in California that the family came to the final realization that they would not be returning to Russia: A State Duma deputy had spoken out about their case, virtually guaranteeing further attention from security officials if they moved back. On September 9, Vaganov and Yerofeyev received notice that their asylum application was under consideration.

The family chose to live in Seattle because, they said, Washington State is “a center of freedom even in the U.S. itself.” After considering the city’s climate, school system, and economic conditions, the family got settled and prepared for the new academic year. Vaganov and Yerofeyev expressed awe at the level of trust they had encountered in the United States and at the openness of their children’s educational staff. Their sons were also very satisfied with their new environment despite the difficulties of beginning to learn English. Yura even “learned the phrase ‘let’s be friends’ on his very first day and started saying it to everybody around him,” his parents recalled.

Vaganov and Yerofeyev also said they had begun attending classes at local colleges themselves: The ready availability of English classes and career guidance in their area drew praise from both men. Yura, meanwhile, has also developed a new goal for his future: “He wants to grow up, go back to Russia, become president, and repeal all the laws that forced us to escape. And he also wants to find that doctor in Roshal’s clinic whose complaint got this whole story started.” The two fathers closed their interview with Meduza by addressing the medical community themselves, urging doctors to remember that “their task is to heal people […] not to bring their personal opinion that two men shouldn’t raise children to the level of the law.”

Interview by Ivan Golunov

Summary by Hilah Kohen