welcome to Chechnya

Welcome to Chechnya – the atrocities of state-orchestrated hate

Welcome to Chechnya changed the names and facial details of all those victims interviewed to protect their human rights from further state persecution.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Anyone who has dedicated themselves to fighting for LGBTQ+ equality and rights will have watched the growing persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Russia with horror. The introduction of the 2013 ‘gay propaganda law’ was a tool for state-sanctioned oppression as adults and kids were subjected to horrific treatment. These victims suffered humiliation, degradation, and abuse at the hands of gangs whose sole aim was to purify Russian society as they were manipulated and threatened by the tormentors through social media posts that remained available on the platforms that should have protected them. These human rights abuses have found an even greater evil in the hands of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Putin-loving puppet leader of Chechnya, as stories began to appear in 2017 of torture, murder, and the social cleansing of LGBTQ+ people.

In Welcome to Chechnya, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker David French brings these human rights abuses into the open through cutting-edge facial editing software that protects the identity of the victims and the Russian LGBT+ community and activists he interviews. Welcome to Chechnya shines a light on the social cleansing at the heart of Putin’s Russia and Kadyrov’s Chechnya while reminding us that LGBTQ+ torture and persecution are far from being a footnote in history.


David French opens his film as Isteev (an LGBT rights activist in Moscow) answers a desperate call from a young woman in the Chechen capital, Grozny. She has recently been outed by her uncle after refusing to have sex with him for his silence. Her father is a high-ranking government official who would rather see her dead than be named a lesbian, and it’s clear her very life hangs in the balance as she recounts her experience. Isteev is more than aware that lesbians often disappear in Chechnya at the hands of their family members and quickly begins to plan a way to get her to the uneasy safety of the Moscow LGBT+ Community Center and their network of safe houses.


Meanwhile, in one of those safe houses, we meet ‘Grisha’, an ethnic Russian detained while working in Chechnya. Grisha spent days undergoing torture, beatings, and humiliation due to his perceived sexuality before suddenly being allowed to leave as a Russian citizen. However, his release was subject to the threat of death if he spoke about his treatment. It is clear that Grisha’s experiences have left deep, lasting scars made worse by his sense of guilt for those he knows were tortured and murdered. As we follow the harrowing journey of ‘Grisha’, ‘Anya’ and many others, French uses footage uncovered by LGBTQ+ and human rights activists to bring home the reality of the state-sanctioned abuse. This harrowing footage asks us why there remains an international indifference to the torture and murder underway. Here, the denials of Putin and Kadyrov while smirking at the camera have been ignored by the world as their victims screamed out in pain.


French focuses his camera on the survivors rescued by Isteev, Baranova and their brave colleagues, with each story an urgent call for world action. The result is a harrowing and powerful journey into the horror of social cleansing in a world that said “never again” after the Nuremberg Trials. Here, French shines a light on the leaders who wield their power free of control while reminding us that our LGBTQ+ community is global, and it is our shared duty, wherever we may live, to protect our brothers and sisters at any cost.

Welcome to Chechnya is now available on BBC iPlayer.

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