A transgender high-ranking government official from Chechnya shared how she escaped Russia for the US.
Leila, who worked with current Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov’s father, has revealed how she was targeted by hitmen, sent death threats, and was forced to go into hiding.
While the autonomous mostly Muslim region of Chechnya is very conservative, her childhood was surprisingly accepting of her identity.
‘I will never forget the first hike to school, on the first of September, when I stupidly refused to wear men’s stuff that my mother wore in the end,’ she told independent Russian TV station Rain.
‘She called my father, who tried to teach me good sense. But nothing came of it.’
Her teachers didn’t mind, and neither did anyone else, Leila said.
‘I was not exactly living openly as a woman,’ she said.
‘But I could afford to openly manifest myself as an unusual man.’
Working for the Chechen government in 2002, she met high ranking officials. This included Akhmad Kadyrov, the current president’s father, who was assassinated in 2004.
‘He was a nice man, and there was no negative feeling towards me from him that I noticed,’ Leila said, who received gender confirmation surgery in the mid 00s.
‘Even though I had plucked eyebrows and it was clear that I stood out from the crowd.’
It was when Leila moved to Moscow that the problems began.
Unknown people told her relatives to arrange Leila’s murder, she said. If her family didn’t kill Leila, they threatened they would ‘find her and bring you back the body’.
In October 2015, Leila was attacked on the street in central Moscow.
Her attacker, who Leila said was Chechen, stabbed her and asked her: ‘When will you stop disgracing your people?’
She also received threatening texts but she claims police did not take her seriously.
Instead of offering their help, they told Leila to go to western Europe or they would bring her back to Chechnya.
After staying hidden and often changing apartments, Leila eventually wanted to move away to Argentina via Mexico.
On the way, she learned her attackers knew where she was headed, Leila changed her plans and settled in the US.
On 1 April Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a story saying Chechnya was operating a concentration camp for gay men.