Khujand, 30st August 2023
One year ago today, on the 31st August 2022, I applied for a humanitarian visa to leave Russia. I was originally told it would take up to six months, but here I am today, still waiting. Since I haven’t received any reply, I am, for now, ‘stuck’ in Tajikistan, where I arrived, alone, eleven months ago.
I’d been thinking about leaving for a very long time, even before the war broke out. I’m trans and so it was difficult for me in Russia. I wasn’t in a very supportive or friendly environment, so to speak. I tried to avoid my neighbours and people in general, because it could have led to trouble, and I didn’t want anything to happen to me, since I had to look after my mother – who suffers from schizophrenia – and my grandmother. So I was quite isolated, in fact.
By the time Russia invaded Ukraine, on the 24th February, I had already started to gather my papers together, and think about how to sell my belongings… The war, and above all the drafting of troops, accelerated the process. I applied for my first visa in Russia, then, from the 21st September, there was what Putin called a “partial mobilisation”. However, it was clear to me that it wasn’t a partial mobilisation at all. 300,000 people were called up, including people who were unfit for military service. At that point, I thought to myself, they’ll be closing the borders soon. So, I decided to leave.
Many of my friends fled to Armenia, Georgia, Kazakstan or via Turkey. I was thinking of doing the same, but then a friend suggested Tajikistan; it would never have occurred to me otherwise.
I knew absolutely nothing about the country but, at the time, there weren’t many other options left, and a lot of people were leaving, so ticket prices were going up. I didn’t really have to think twice, in two days I bought my tickets and arrived here, alone. I thought I would be just passing through while I got my visa, but eleven months later I’m still here.
The first humanitarian visa I applied for was through a French charity called Urgence homophobie, which helps find safe places for people from the LGBT community. I know that some people got their visas after a month, others after two, others after a year… Others still haven’t. We don’t really know why.
I have also made other attempts at getting this visa, a few months ago via the Sakharov Institute and right now via the Artists in Exile organisation. So I’m just waiting, there’s nothing else I can do.
It’s been a year and a half since I’ve spoken to my mother, who’s in hospital. All I can do is send her parcels. It’s hard, but I’m not complaining, the people here are nice and I try to stay hopeful. And right now it would be risky to go back to Russia. I’d be questioned about my long absence, and my phone could be searched to see if there was any information that isn’t favourable to the regime…
As a trans person, it would also be dangerous for me. I’m not safe there. In July, the government passed a new law banning transitions. We’re not allowed to take hormone treatments, have surgery or change our identity papers. It was quite an unexpected decision, but it’s not a good sign, neither for me, nor with regards to the direction the country is taking.
As a trans person, Mark didn’t feel he was in a very “supportive environment” in his native Russia and had long dreamed of leaving. The conflict in Ukraine and the possibility of being called up prompted him to do so sooner than expected. But the various requests he has made for a humanitarian visa in order to pursue his life elsewhere, have not yet been answered, leaving Mark “stuck” in Tajikistan, for eleven months, just waiting.