‘I am not returning to this hell’: In the Russian North Caucasus, NGOs help victims of gender and LGBTQ+ violence to escape

Screenshot of Layla's video from the Twitter account of NC SOS

A video of a tearful young girl saying that she ran away from her parents in Ingushetia, a North Caucasus republic in Russia, has been circulating in the Russian-speaking segment of Twitter for the last few days. In the video, Leyla says that her parents want to “treat” her atheism in any way they could, including beating and medicating her.  “I will kill myself if I have to return to this hell,” she adds. She was arrested and detained by the Saint-Petersburg police (the girl called the police when her relatives found her in St. Petersburg’s flat) but was then held on false accusations from her family.

With the help of the crisis group North Caucasus SOS, who provided a lawyer, and accommodation, she is safe now.

Here is her story in the following Twitter thread:

North Caucasus SOS describes itself as a group of NGOs united to help LGBTQ+ victims in Chechnya and other republics of the Russian North Caucasus. They also help women and girls who are subject to gender violence. Leyla escaped the region by herself, with the help of other activists, including Saint-Petersburg-based author of the graphic novel “Escape,” Vladislav Horin. While in the city, she contacted the NGO Marem, which helps women and girls from the North Caucasus.

Help us save Leyla Gureeva, says this poster from Merim's founder Facebook page

How the NGOs are financed

Both NC SOS and Marem are able to help these victims because of donations, mostly local, from Russia. It has became harder to collect them now, but organizations cannot give up on their work.

On October 26, Marem wrote in their Telegram channel:

Friends, we urgently need your donations. Those who subscribe to us know what we do and how long we have been helping. Usually, in such situations of complete lack of money, we turned to friendly foundations and human rights organizations for help. But now there are almost none of them left in Russia, and those that remain need support themselves. We understand how difficult times are for everyone right now. But the requests continue to come in. The next one may come tomorrow or in an hour, and we need to respond to them immediately, because it is often a matter of life and death. And this help will require expenses, and here we can’t cope without you.

The organization’s founder, Svetlana Anokhina, a journalist from Dagestan, added in another post:

“By transferring money to us, you are not supporting us, the activists.
You are supporting Iraida, who fights so that her husband, who beat her and two daughters, is now on trial for sexual acts against her 15-year-old daughter, and could never repeat this.

You are helping Heda, she was kidnapped and brought on a false pretense from Austria to Chechnya and was going to be forced to marry. What she told about her family and the conditions in which she had to live is simply monstrous.

You are supporting Amin, she was forced to flee and hide – without money, without documents, without help.

You support Lina from Chechnya, an aspiring journalist – she typed her first huge texts on the phone. We managed to buy her a laptop, even during this terrible time.
We're raising money for a ticket to escape from a rapist. To pay for long-term psychological support.

We raise money for food: buckwheat, milk, sugar, tea for a mother from whom after a divorce, they want to take away her daughter.

For menstrual pads. Yes, them too.

To pay for a hostel so that a woman can rest for at least a couple of days. To buy shoes for a girl who ran in house slippers.

For the restoration of documents – many of our girls’ documents are simply taken away so that they do not go anywhere.

And you are not sending this money to me, Sveta Anokhina, and not to other activists of our team.  But to Amin, Khadizhat, Perus, who are trying to survive.”

The impact of North Caucasus SOS

North Caucasus SOS buys tickets and provides other transport for people to escape; assists with legal issues, housing, and medical needs. They are also collecting evidence of prosecution of the LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya and other republics of North Caucasus, in order that justice could someday be served.

In October 2022, they helped four sisters from Dagestan, who went through female circumcision and regular beatings in their family, to escape to Georgia.

Russian state border guards are not letting four Dagestani girls, who ran away from domestic violence, to cross the border [with Georgia].

On the video, the four girls  are requesting to not be reunited with their families  parents because the parents want to kill them.

One of the sisters, Patimat, later published photos illustrating how her brother and mother beat her up because they doubted her “religiousness”:

Sisters from Dagestan explained why they fled from their home.

Patimat Magomedova published photos of the consequences of “quarrels” with relatives. Her mother and brother have beaten her to the point that she bled and had huge bruises; all because they doubted that she was sufficiently religious.

Human rights activist Almut Rochowanski, who worked with NGOs in the North Caucasus for many years, posted on Twitter:

How can one help?

Rochowanski also said in an interview with Global Voices:

Interestingly, for the last 10 years, I've been working in Russia on mobilizing local resources primarily in the form of small donations from Russian citizens. At the time when I first started talking about this, there was a lot of hostility from Russian activists, but also from the Western partners. But this has changed. In the last five years donations became more acceptable and even popular. Some of Russia's leading human rights organizations, with a really well established brand, were able to do some really amazing things like raising money from not just a few people within Russia, but from a lot of people. They managed to raise funds from thousands and thousands of ordinary Russians to do their human rights work. These were small donations with no strings attached, based on the trust that these activists and organizations would do the right thing with the funds. That was in fact, one of the last things I worked on before the war started: helping Russian organizations transform their financial model.

Now, both North Caucasus SOS and Marem are collecting funding from within Russia. However, as they say themselves, the situation became harder. One can also help their efforts from abroad, as both accept donations via PayPal.

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