How you can help persecuted Russian LGBT+
activist, Yulia Tsvetkova

By the end of 2018, at the age of 25, Yulia Tsvetkova had already made some of her
dreams come true: opening a theatre for kids, launching a sex-ed project for
teenagers, and creating feminist resources online. A year later and ever since, this
feminist and LGBT+ activist is facing up to six years in prison, is receiving death
threats, and cannot leave her town in Russia’s Far East. Only in 2021 the long and
torturous investigation led to a trial and in October she had a first administrative win
among the many charges she’s facing. Read on to learn more about Yulia’s story and
the ways you might help her.

*Updated in November 2021


This is Yulia Tsvetkova from Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia’s Far East. Yulia is a
feminist, an LGBT+ activist, an artist, and a founder of a theatre studio for teenagers.

“I am a scary woman,” she says.

Wondering why? Read on and judge for yourself.

Yulia began 2019 having achieved a lot and with big plans in store. To mark the first
day of that year, and to take stock of the past 12 months, she posted this online:

“2018 became a year of a major shift for me. It happens sometimes that important things
arrive all at once. This year, I opened my own theatre, a community centre and an online group. Towards the end of the year, I launched a project that I had dreamed about for many years – sex-ed for teenagers. If somebody had told me a year ago that it would have turned out like this, I’d have laughed wholeheartedly…


Many of these things would not have happened without the examples of the amazing
people who came into my life and showed me that dreaming about a better world is both
possible and necessary, and that we all are able to change what’s around us.”

Fast-forward to the first day of 2020 — and Yulia celebrated New Year under house
arrest, with a tracking bracelet on her ankle.

What happened in-between?

During 2019, Yulia carried on with her freshly-launched activist and theatre initiatives.
She hosted events at the LGBT-friendly community centre. She contributed lots of
content to her online awareness-raising projects: Vagina Monologues on
destigmatising women’s bodies; Komsomolka on feminism; and Dandelion field on
sex-ed for teenagers. Together with the young members of her theatre group, Merak,
she had a youth theatre festival in the making with four plays to present that coming
March.

Then, just two months into 2019, anonymous complaints, threats, and calls from the
police began creeping into Yulia’s life. She was forced to cancel the theatre festival, due
to pressure from the local authorities. Visits to the police station for questioning
quickly became a routine and constant part of her days.

On one of her visits to the police, she learned that her drawings promoting body
positivity were deemed “pornography” by law enforcement agents. Concerns were
raised about her “A woman is not a doll” series, in which schematic depictions of
women are accompanied by affirmations like: “Living women have body fat, and that’s
normal;” “Living women get wrinkles and grey hairs, and that’s normal;” and “Living
women have muscles, and that’s normal”. A couple of teenagers from Yulia’s theatre
group and some followers of her online communities were called in for questioning
too.

The “Vagina Monologues” online community that Yulia led drew the attention of the
police as well. It’s community featured abstract depictions of female sexual organs and
educational drawings of women’s bodies.

Invitations from the local police for ‘informal questioning’ stopped later in the fall of
2019.

But Yulia’s story was about to take a darker turn.

Informal questioning soon gave way to formal interrogations. On 20 November 2019,
Yulia Tsvetkova was arrested and put under investigation for “distribution of
pornography”.

Yulia was under house arrest for almost four months, from 23 November 2019 until 16
March 2020.

She went through dozens of interrogations and was ordered to undergo a psychiatric
examination.

She was fined for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” twice: in December
2019 and in July 2020. In both cases “propaganda” was found in her online content:
first in the feminist and LGBT+ communities that she ran, then — in a drawing
featuring LGBT+ families and a slogan “Family is where love is. Support LGBT+
families!”

Currently, Yulia is appealing these two decisions. She is also facing a third charge of
“propaganda” based on an online post with illustrations in support of LGBT+ families
in Russia.

She continues to regularly receive death threats, and her formal complaints to the
police are met with complete indifference and inaction.

On 12 January 2021, she was again charged with ‘distribution of pornography’ in
connection with online dissemination of her feminist drawings. This is the fourth time
that the Investigative Committee indicts Yulia on these charges. “It’s the same case, just
the prosecutor’s office does not send the case to court, but returns it for further
investigation”, says Yulia’s mother Anna Khodyreva.

She is still under gag order and cannot leave her town. Yulia’s trial in the
“pornography” case started on 31 March 2021, and she is set to appear in court several
times throughout April to June. The trial is happening behind closed doors, contrary to
Yulia’s defense demands.

In protest, and after two years under investigation that have been already taken away
from her, Yulia went on hunger strike on May 1 to demand an open trial and a speedy
process. An endless delay of the process and its secrecy are taking a toll on Yulia and go
against her right to a due process. Yulia decided to stop the strike on May 7 because of
health considerations and care for her family and close ones.

In October 2021, the Khabarovsk Regional Court overturned the decision of the
Komsomolsk Court to close the Vagina Monologues social media group. The case was
sent for a new consideration to the court of first instance due to violations of Yulia’s
rights during the consideration of the case. If the case would have been lost, it would

Have a look at Yulia’s hearings in the pornography case timeline in
2021

  • 31 March: Preliminary hearing
  • 12 April: Pre-trial motions
  • 1 May to 7 May: Yulia goes on hunger strike
  • 6 May: The judge denied Yulia’s request to bring in a public defender. After the
  • announcement of charges, the hearing was postponed once again due to absence
  • of prosecution’s witnesses.
  • 24 May: To be confirmed
  • 15 June: To be confirmed
  • Check out this blog regularly for more updates!

Here’s how you can help Yulia Tsvetkova

Today, Yulia needs as many eyes as possible on her case and as many messengers as
possible for her story. Your attention and your action matter.

  • Write, talk, tweet, draw about Yulia’s story, and invite your friends and social
    media community to join.
  • Browse the FreeTsvet website, launched in Yulia’s support by activists in Russia, for
    complete details and solidarity action ideas.
  • Get creative with your own solidarity action.
  • Use the hashtags #заЮлю, #ямыЮлияЦветкова, #свободуюлецветковой, #свободуцветковой on your social media platforms
  • Sign this petition.

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