WATCH: To Start Another Life, Free

By Max J. Rosenthal,


One night, when he still lived in his native Russia, Ilia invited another man home. When they met, the man said he wanted to leave to buy some wine for the pair.

“But when he came back, he was not alone,” Ilia said. “There was three guys with guns and knives.” The men attacked and badly injured Ilia, solely because he was gay.

“Before they left, they said that if I call anybody, they have all my IDs, they have all the information about my family,” Ilia said. “So they’re going to find them and they’re going to kill them.”

That horrific experience — combined with the contempt of the police and the discrimination he faced after reporting the attack — made Ilia realize he could not stay in Russia. Just before his 41st birthday, he traveled to the United States and claimed asylum.

With the help of HIAS, Ilia has been able to restart his life in safety in the U.S. In this video for Pride Month, he recounts his ordeal, his escape from Russia, and how he has “learned to be free” in his new homeland.

For Pride Month, HIAS is highlighting the resilience of LGBTQ refugees and our vital work in supporting them. You can read all of HIAS’ Pride Month coverage here.

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