David France, USA
In 2017, the Chechnyan police did a drug raid on an apartment. Upon their investigation, it was discovered that one of the suspects was gay. It was this small event that gave the government the opportunity to begin to systematically round up LGBTQ+ people throughout the country resulting in their torture, disappearance, and presumed deaths. Due to the prevalence of homophobia, those who were released to their family were often subjected to “honor killings”. While the Kremlin-backed leader of the country Ramzam Kadyrov denied these events declaring that there were no queer people in Chechnya, LGBTQ+ groups were working desperately to save lives. WELCOME TO CHECHNYA documents the stories of those involved in running a secret shelter trying to protect the remaining LGBTQ+ community, while also highlighting the stories of several men and women seeking to escape the country.
Let me be frank, WELCOME TO CHECHNYA is a disturbing documentary which spares no punches in revealing the horrifying realities of the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya. The faces and names of those involved have all been altered in order to protect the identities of the victims and the activists. Interspersed throughout the film are grainy clips of people being tortured and murdered with graphic detail. The activists hurry throughout the country trying to reach people as quickly as possible, but even when some are saved, the reality of the life of a refugee, far from the family and culture they have known, is often absolutely devastating. There is no happy ending here, for even when “Grisha”, one of the victims of torture and imprisonment, escapes the country and decides to openly come forward about his experiences to the Russian press, the international response is lukewarm. The greater world cares little for the backwards actions of a small Russian satellite state, and this willful ignorance has led to the deaths of an untold number of vulnerable people. Those that do escape find that it is extremely difficult to get granted asylum and of the 151 survivors, none have been accepted into the United States. With these facts, WELCOME TO CHECHNYA manages to slip in a bit of criticism towards the rest of the world; if you find the actions of the Chechnyan government horrifying in this documentary, then why is it that no one is doing anything about the situation? (Rose Finlay)