On the evening of November 11, four burly young men wearing hoods brutally attacked two lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activists – Zoya Matisova, 42, and Nadezhda Aronchik, 23. Both were taking part in an inclusive family conference in Moscow.
Matisova, a psychologist and board member of the Russian LGBT Network, told me that the assailants approached them not far from the conference venue as she and Aronchik were on their way to the metro. The men first asked if they had anything to do with the conference and without waiting for an answer, sprayed something in Matisova’s eyes and punched Aronchik in the face, shouting homophobic slurs. Then they fled. “My eyes were burning and the pain was just hellish,” Matisova said.
Matisova started rinsing her eyes with bottled water, but Aronchik saw the attackers come back. The women ran in the direction of the conference venue. One of the men jumped Matisova from behind. She fell down, and Aronchik stumbled right over her. The men left again. Aronchik and Matisova got up and continued to the conference venue. As soon as they arrived, they called an ambulance and the police.
Police officials arrived promptly but made no move to search for the attackers. Aronchik filed a complaint with the police straight away. Matisova, who had to go to a hospital to receive treatment for temporary blindness caused by a mild chemical burn from an acetone-based substance, filed a complaint with the police the next day. She also suffered minor injuries to her shoulder and knee as a result of the fall and shared her medical records with police officials. After the attack, the organizers had to cancel the rest of the conference when the venue administrators, fearful of possible security incidents, suspended the lease agreement.
Matisova told me there were security cameras at the site of the attacks. She and Aronchik also kept the clothes they wore that night unwashed so that the police could gather forensic evidence, including traces of the spray the attackers had used. While there appears to be little doubt the two were victims of a violent hate crime, two weeks after the attack there is no sign that the police have opened a criminal case. Authorities should act immediately and ensure that this brutal crime does not go unpunished.