Welcome back to Chechnya: How Ramzan Kadyrov’s men tracked down and imprisoned LGBT evacuees

For 48 hours, a panicked phone call and ransacked apartment were the only clues; a sign that something was desperately wrong. David Isteyev, the Russian LGBT Network activist who took the emergency call on Thursday, says it was difficult to make out much above the shrieking. But an SMS message immediately clarified things. “Pomogite!” it read. “Help!” The sender, 20-year-old Salekh Magamadov, was one of hundreds of at-risk LGBT people Isteyev had helped evacuate from Chechnya, the increasingly intolerant republic nestled in the mountains of Russia’s southern border. He had placed Magamadov in a safe house – he thought – in provincial Nizhny Novgorod, 500 miles east of Moscow, together with his friend, 17-year-old Ismail Isayev. Both were waiting for visas to start a new life in Europe before they disappeared – forcibly returned, as it later transpired, back to Chechnya.