Novosibirsk: Grisha's Death
Nearly four years after Gary and I finished the original Russian Chronicles trip, we received an email from someone named Aleksey. He wrote: "I just thought that you might want to know this. The Russian gay guy Grisha from Novosibirsk was killed about a couple of weeks ago." In a second email, Aleksey wrote that Grisha had in fact been murdered.
On our trip in 1995,twenty-seven-year-old Grisha had allowed us a glimpse into what it was like to be gay in Russia. He gamely let Gary follow him around the city snapping pictures and spoke frankly with us about his life in Siberia.
Upon getting the news, I dialed all the numbers I had for people in Novosibirsk. I hoped to find out that Aleksey's news was either a mistake or a sick joke. When I couldn't reach anyone, I decided I was better off not knowing for sure. At that time, with no plans to return to Novosibirsk, it seemed preferable to just believe Grisha was healthy and happy, as he was when we met him in 1995.
Ever since deciding to do this Russian Chronicles trip again, I've been dreading getting to Novosibirsk and finding out the news was true. Sadly, it is: Grisha was stabbed to death in his apartment on the night of October 20, 1999, a week before his 32nd birthday. Two soldiers were convicted and are now in prison. Their motive was unclear, though several of Grisha's things were stolen.
Last night, David and I spent several hours with the people who were closest to Grisha, including his best friend Valera, his former partner Zhenya and his friend Natasha. Tomorrow, we'll update how their lives have changed over the past 10 years, and how they're doing now. But today I want to write a few words just about Grisha.
There's an iron streak of homophobia in Russia -- as there is in most countries -- and Grisha's decision to open his life to us was a brave one. He took Gary and my attention in stride, smiling bemusedly as we hovered around him with notebook and camera at the ready.
It's common, of course, to remember those who've died in the rosiest possible light. And I can't claim to have known Grisha terribly well after spending just four days with him ten years ago. But both Gary and I felt drawn to Grisha. He had a gentle way about him, and he exuded a kind of even-keeled contentedness. Those two things combined to create his most appealing trait: He was just really, really nice to be around.
One of the last things Grisha told me was that he saw hopeful signs for gays in Russia. "These days it actually seems possible that Russia will eventually come to a point where we can live as openly as gays in the West," he said. "It may take a while, but that seems to be the direction we're headed in. At least, we can hope for that now."
Personally, I hope that comes true one day. I also wish Grisha could have been here to see it when it does.
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