Twenty-nine-year-old Ilya Bronsky tested positive for HIV in 2019 and wanted other HIV-positive Russians to understand that the diagnosis is not the end of the world. His tweets about living with HIV in Russia, a country with over a million HIV-positive residents, reached thousands. In March, he gave an interview to TJournal, a popular online media outlet, emphasizing that with his medication and the support from his partner and friends, his HIV status has not really changed his life. Bronsky believed that speaking openly would help dispel bias about HIV. “Owing to those who speak up about the disease, the myths will be dead and buried, and more and more people will have reliable information,” he said.
After the interview, Bronsky received a barrage of online hate messages, but thought them empty threats until one anonymous author included Bronsky’s home address and promised to come after him. Another warned him to “shut up” unless he wanted to “end up in a ditch” and said that in the next few days he’d be receiving “a gift.” On April 1, Bronsky filed a report with St. Petersburg police, enclosing scans of the threats. They did not get back to him.
On April 3, at around 2 p.m., Bronsky was walking through a courtyard when someone yelled after him, “AIDS-spreading f****t!” Bronsky turned to look. “I only had a glimpse of [the man] and then his fist flew into my face,” he told me. “The man was 25-35, with reddish hair. Once he punched me, he simply walked away. My nose was bleeding heavily.”
Bronsky went to a hospital where he was treated for a nose fracture. He filed an assault complaint with the police, who gave him a form to fill out without providing any instructions. “I had to call a friendly lawyer who helped me out…They took the form but didn’t question me. Then, on April 7, a police officer called saying they couldn’t find anything on CCTV cameras, so they were hardly likely to identify the assailant.”
When Bronsky started blogging about his condition, he aspired to de-stigmatize people with HIV/AIDS. He has paid a high price for it and the authorities should protect him.