Russian Anti-Gay Vigilantes Find New Home in Ukraine
31 May, 2017
Photo: Oleksii Suvirov, UNIAN

This is condensed and edited version of original report in Ukrainian. Also read it in Russian

Members of notorious Russian anti-gay vigilantes groups create new bases in Ukraine and recruit new army from locals.

In late February 2017, Ukrainian authorities arrested a large group of anti-gay vigilantes in central Ukraine. 11 people from Kropyvnytskyi are all members of the “White Lions” movement that 'catches pedophiles'. They are accused of hunting down, beating and extorting money from their queer victims, following well-publicized activity of a similiar homophobic movement in neighboring Russia.

Hromadske tries to figure out who the members of the movement are and what they have in common with the similiar Russian nationalist movement .

‘White Lions’ and ‘Heritage’

According to the regional prosecutor’s office in Kropyvnytskyi, the detained members of the ‘White Lions’ group attacked alleged pedophiles, filmed their victims being assaulted on video, and then extorted money from them, threatening to share the video on social media.

‘White Lions’ group members. Photo: official group in Vkontakte

The local court sent two of the main organisers to pre-trial detention, put one of the underage members under house arrest, and sent a further eight underage vigilantes back under parental supervision.

The arrest of group members in Kropyvnytskyi. Photo: Security Service of Ukraine (SBU)

Artem Artemyev, a leader of another anti-gay vigilante group in Ukraine, the "Heritage" movement, offers his own explanation for the arrest of his colleagues from the 'White Lions" group: “The ‘White Lions’ acted harshly. They resorted to violent actions and were allegedly extorting money from people,” he says.

The "Heritage" movement calls itself "a public movement, aimed at exposing those who encroach on children’s dignity". The organization operates under the following scheme: the movement's vigilantes lure queer men through fake social media accounts to meet in real life. And when they arrive, they attack and abuse them, while filming the process for subsequent social media posts.

Artem Artemyev, a leader of the ‘Heritage’ movement. Photo: Vkontakte profile

Artemyev claims that the "Heritage" movement’s activity is a non-profit hobby. According to him, since he became a member of the movement, they have 'spoken' to 121 people.

“I do it to ensure that children grow up in a safer society, where no one would ruin their psyche,” he explained. “They are the future of our country, nation, race, I mean the white race, which is a priority. I’m not a racist, I just like my people more.”

The term 'pedophile' is often used by Eastern European homophobic movements to rationalize violence and discrimination of LGBT people and is interchangeable with 'homosexual' or 'gay.' It exploits an internationally known homophobic myth about 'all gay people are 'pedophiles.' The latter doesn't stand as scientific or empirical fact.

Alongside pedophile exposure, the "Heritage" movement has also organized some informal classes for Ukrainian kids. According to Artemyev, the classes are designed to teach children how to fend off adults’ violence. The project is entitled ‘The School of Children’s Vigilance’.

The "School" offers classes for two age groups: children aged 4-7 and those aged 10-15. Artemyev plans to deliver similar classes in public school, and not only in Zaporozhia, but also in other regions across Ukraine. Up to now, about 100 children have already taken ‘vigilance’ classes.

‘Russian trace’

Artemyev’s friends list on the VK network (a Russian-based social media website, now banned in Ukraine) includes some renowned figures in the Russian nationalist circles, for example, Roman Zheleznov, aka Zukhel, who joined the Ukrainian ‘Azov’ battalion in 2014. He is wanted in Russia.

Roman Zheleznov. Photo: Vkontakte profile

Zheleznov collaborated with Ilya Horyacheviy, who is accused of setting up BORN, the “Militant Organisation of Russian Nationalists”. Some of its members were sentenced in Russia for murdering anti-fascist vigilantes.

Zukhel is a key ally to Maxim Martsinkevich, better known as "Tesak" (Hatchet). The latter is a founder of the "Restrukt!" and ‘Occupy Pedophilia’ organizations. Until 2015, the organization had been attacking and hunting down queer people, including minors, all across Russia. It is the country's most popular homophobic movement to the date. It had little pushback from local authorities at first - systemic homophobia and LGBT discrimination are part of the Kremlin's official policy of defending 'Russian traditional values.' "Occupy Pedophilia" proved to be a rather profitable venture from an economic point of view too, Martsinkevich and his fellow team members raised funds from YouTube views, as well as from the sales of ‘safari’ tickets, i.e. tickets for those willing to watch first-hand the vigilantes harassing alleged pedophiles.

Maxim Martsinkevich, ‘Tesak’. Photo: Vkontakte profile

In 2013, Martsinkevich made the ‘Occupy Pedophilia’ tour around Ukraine. Accompanied by his fellow team-members, he visited Kharkiv, Kherson, Odessa, Kyiv and some other regions, and filmed videos of abusing local queer people. Later on, those video clips gave grounds to the Russian law-enforcers for instituting criminal proceedings over ‘instigation of hatred or enmity and abasement of human dignity through violence.’

Some other members of the ‘Restrukt!’ and "Occupy Pedophilia" movement were arrested along with Martsinkevich. Many of the group members fled from prosecution and found shelter in Ukraine, and some of them joined the ‘Azov’ paramilitary battalion that played prolific role in defending the country from the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine.

That’s how Michael Oreshnikov, a leader of the Chuvash cell of the ‘Occupy Pedophilia’ movement, moved from Cheboksary, Russia, to Kyiv. He was facing charges in Russia for an attack on police officers during one of his campaigns in support of Ukraine.

Michael Oreshnikov. Photo: Hromadske

In July 2014, he crossed the Russian-Ukrainian state border and asked for political asylum. He was denied refugee status, but he managed to obtain a residence permit, and then Ukrainian citizenship, as he put it, thanks to the support of the ‘Azov’ battalion, which he joined. Having moved to Ukraine, Oreshnikov proceeded with the ‘pedophile hunt’. As far as his methods are concerned, he said as follows:

“We didn’t resort to violence at all, I strictly banned it. Certain moral pressure is required to make a pedophile behave correctly, to make sure that he doesn’t become insolent, and, at the same time, make him confess his deeds. When you pick up the phone and say: ‘Now, I’m going to call your mom and ask her to come and take you.”

Oreshnikov and other Russian anti-gay vigilantes find fertile ground in Ukraine. Although the country doesn't have official homophobic policies as in Russia, local LGBT community is not equal under the law and attacks against queer Ukrainians are rarely persecuted or investigated. Since the Maidan revolution the violence against LGBT Ukrainians has been on the rise.

To be continued...

Over the past two years, numerous Ukrainian ‘clone’ movements following the example of Russian anti-gay vigilantes.

Thus, the "Heritage", "White Lions" and "Fashion Verdict" organizations were set up in the image and semblance of the Russian ‘Occupy Pedophilia’, and oftentimes, with the ‘assistance’ of its former leaders. They declared a manhunt not only for alleged pedophiles, but also gays.

Human rights advocates and the LGBT-community vigilantes have repeatedly complained about violence on part of these groups. According to Tymur Levchuk, an executive director of the ‘Fulcrum’ LGBT-organization, in 2015, the organization’s staff filed as many as 15 appeals to the public defender, with subsequent transfer to the police, with regard to video records featuring violence against the individuals whom the group members referred to as ‘pedophiles and gays’. However, in his words, the cases either were not launched at all, or were closed due to lack of evidence.

‘White Lions’ group members at the local TV. Photo: official group in Vkontakte

The court usually qualifies such cases as hooliganism, rather than prejudice-motivated criminal offences. In this case, a person facing charges will get a suspended sentence, at best.

‘Pedophile hunt’ is a convenient disguise for physical and psychological violence against vulnerable groups, like, for example, gays, who cannot report criminal offences against them due to wide-spread homophobia,” says Anna Gritsenko, a researcher, dealing with right-wing radical groups.

“This neo-Nazi-tainted systematic and demonstrative terror is very dangerous, no matter who the victim is. If someone knows about real cases of pedophilia, he shouldn’t engage in lynching, but would better report it to law-enforcement agencies and monitor the case progress,” Anna Gritsenko summarized.

/Reporting by Kateryna Sergatskova

/Translated by Hromadske's partners JamNews, Sofia Fedeczko