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Andrew Nasonov, right, and Igor Bazilevsky, left, getting married in Meridian Hill Park in Washington in October. Photo: Michael Knaapen / AP
The Associated Press.
NEW YORK — Had he stayed in Russia, Andrew Mironov would be settling into a stable job with an oil company, likely with a newly awarded doctoral degree in electrical engineering. Instead, he faces an uncertain future in New York City as one of scores of Russian gays seeking asylum in the United States because of hostility and harassment in their homeland.
Yet the sacrifices have been worth it, the 25-year-old said, given the fears that lingered after he was severely beaten by several assailants in the lobby of a gay bar in his home city of Samara.
“Which is more important: happiness or success?” he asked. “I would say happiness. I feel no fear here.”
There are no firm statistics on the number of gay Russian asylum seekers. U.S. government agencies that handle applications do not report such details. However, the Department of Homeland Security’s latest figures show that overall applications for asylum by Russians totaled 969 in the 2014 fiscal year, up 34 percent from 2012.
The increase is due in part to the worsening anti-gay climate in Russia, according to Immigration Equality, a New York-based organization that provides legal services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants.
The organization says the number of inquiries it received from gay Russians seeking U.S. asylum has risen from 68 in 2012 to 127 in 2013 and 161 through Oct. 30 of this year. During that period, gay-rights gatherings in Russia were frequently targeted by assailants, and the parliament passed a law targeting “gay propaganda” that was widely viewed as a means of deterring gay activism.
To get an application approved, an asylum seeker must present a convincing case that he or she has a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country.
Aaron Morris, Immigration Equality’s legal director, said most of the recent asylum inquiries came from gay men in their 20s and 30s who had been targeted by anti-gay attacks.
In several U.S. cities, programs have been launched to assist gay asylum seekers from Russia and elsewhere as they await processing of their applications, which can take six months or more. For the first five months, the asylum seekers are barred from taking paying jobs, so they often struggle to support themselves.
In Washington, D.C., housing is among the major challenges, according to Matthew Corso, who has helped the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community create a program to assist people who are seeking asylum.
Another group aiding gay Russian asylum-seekers in the Washington area is the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, founded in 2011 by Russian immigrant Larry Poltavtsev.
Poltavtsev is frustrated by the rules that bar asylum-seekers from working. “It makes no sense because most of our arrivals have advanced degrees and speak good English,” he said.
Soon to join the queue of applicants are Andrew Nasonov and Igor Bazilevsky, longtime partners from the city of Voronezh who wearied of threats, harassment and beatings and came to the United States in July. They’re now assembling the paperwork for their case.
Nasonov, 25, was a journalist and human rights activist in Russia; Bazilevsky, 32, was a graphic designer. They’ve been provided with lodging by a gay couple in a Washington suburb and took a step in October that would have been impossible in Russia — they got married.
“We were finally able to say that we are a real family — there are not enough words to describe how wonderful these feelings are,” Nasonov wrote in an e-mail.
In New York City, many asylum seekers have received advice and support from Masha Gessen, a Moscow-born journalist and activist whose family moved to the U.S. in 1981.
She said her family, as Soviet Jews, had group refugee status, allowing for an immigration process far easier than that faced by today’s asylum seekers who must prove their individual case.
“There’s no worse way to immigrate to the U.S. than the way these people are doing it,” Gessen said. “You have nothing, and you have no right to work or public assistance. We’ve seen people end up on the streets.”
She and her allies have lobbied the State Department to extend refugee status to LGBT people from Russia, but to no avail.
The United States is among several countries favored as havens by LGBT Russians. Canada, Finland and Israel are among the others. Morris, the Immigration Equality lawyer, said his legal team had been able to win approval for most of the Russian asylum cases that it has handled.
Morris commended the Department of Homeland Security for asking Immigration Equality to train its asylum officers on distinctive aspects of LGBT asylum cases. “They understand our community is a little different,” Morris said.
Tom Mudd clears snow from the roof of his house on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in Cheektowaga, N.Y. A new blast of lake-effect snow pounded Buffalo for a third day piling more misery on a city already buried by an epic, deadly snowfall that could leave some areas with nearly 8 feet of snow on the ground when it’s all done. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Carolyn Thompson, The Associated Press.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Roofs began to creak and collapse and homeowners struggled to clear waist-high drifts on top of their houses Thursday as another storm brought the Buffalo area’s three-day snowfall total to an epic 7 feet or more.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo begged drivers “pretty, pretty please” to stay off slippery, car-clogged roads in western New York while crews tried to dig out. Some areas got close to 3 feet of new snow by Thursday afternoon.
Things could quickly get worse: Rain and temperatures as high as 60 were forecast over the weekend, raising the specter of flooding and an even heavier load on roofs, where the snow could absorb the downpours like a blanket.
In this photo taken on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, and released by the New York National Guard, an airman with the New York Air National Guard shovels snow off the roof of the Eden Heights Assisted Living Facility in West Seneca, N.Y. A new blast of lake-effect snow pounded Buffalo for a third day piling more misery on a city already buried by an epic, deadly snowfall that could leave some areas with nearly 8 feet of snow on the ground when it’s all done. (AP Photo/New York National Guard, Maj. Mark Frank)
More than 50 people were evacuated from several mobile home parks in suburban Cheektowaga and West Seneca because roofs were buckling. Bellevue Fire Department Lt. Timothy Roma said more than a dozen buildings and carports collapsed, as did a metal warehouse operated by a Christmas decorations company, where damage was estimated in the millions.
Local media reported that about 180 residents of a Cheektowaga assisted living facility were evacuated after staff members noticed the ceiling bulging under the weight of the snow.
Homeowners and store employees around the region climbed onto roofs to shovel off the snow and reduce the danger.
“It’s getting heavier,” said Cheektowaga resident Thomas Mudd Jr., who with his wife spent several hours shoveling 4 to 5 feet off his roof. “It’s supposed to warm up and we’re supposed to get rain on the weekend, which will make it even heavier. So I didn’t want my roof collapsing.”
A man digs out his driveway in Depew, N.Y.,Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The Buffalo area found itself buried under as much as 5½ feet of snow Wednesday, with another lake-effect storm expected to bring 2 to 3 more feet by late Thursday. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee) MANDATORY CREDIT; TV OUT; MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; BATAVIA DAILY NEWS OUT; DUNKIRK OBSERVER OUT; JAMESTOWN POST-JOURNAL OUT; LOCKPORT UNION-SUN JOURNAL OUT; NIAGARA GAZETTE OUT; OLEAN TIMES-HERALD OUT; SALAMANCA PRESS OUT; TONAWANDA NEWS OUT
The storms were blamed for at least 10 deaths in western New York, mostly from heart attacks and exposure.
With roads impassable, driving bans in effect and the Buffalo Bills’ stadium buried in snow, the NFL decided to move the Bills’ Sunday home game against the New York Jets to Monday night in Detroit.
Earlier in the day, Cuomo said holding the game would jeopardize public safety.
National Guardsmen drove nurses to work their hospital shifts. State troopers helped elderly residents trapped in their homes. State officials assembled 463 plows, 129 loaders and 40 dump trucks from across the state.
Cars make their way through South Buffalo, N.Y.,Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The Buffalo area found itself buried under as much as 5½ feet of snow Wednesday, with another lake-effect storm expected to bring 2 to 3 more feet by late Thursday. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee) TV OUT; MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; BATAVIA DAILY NEWS OUT; DUNKIRK OBSERVER OUT; JAMESTOWN POST-JOURNAL OUT; LOCKPORT UNION-SUN JOURNAL OUT; NIAGARA GAZETTE OUT; OLEAN TIMES-HERALD OUT; SALAMANCA PRESS OUT; TONAWANDA NEWS OUT
Some Buffalo-area schools were closed for the third day, burning through snow days with winter still a month away.
A stretch of the New York State Thruway through western New York remained closed, with more than 300 truckers idled at truck stops and service areas, waiting for the highway to reopen.
With deliveries interrupted, some grocery stores reported running low on staples like bread and milk.
Thirty-seven inches fell on the town of Wales southeast of Buffalo late Wednesday and Thursday, for a three-day total of more than 7 feet.
Even for the Buffalo area — one of the snowiest and hardiest places in America — this was one for the history books. The three-day total is close to the nearly 8 feet that the region typically gets over an entire year.
Abbie J. Haie digs out her grandmother’s car at their home on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 in Edwards, N.Y. A new blast of lake-effect snow pounded Buffalo for a third day piling more misery on a city already buried by an epic, deadly snowfall that could leave some areas with nearly 8 feet of snow on the ground when it’s all done. (AP Photo/The Watertown Daily Times, Melanie Kimbler Lago)
“No matter how you cut it, this event will end up in the top five for the Lake Erie area,” said National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini.
Because the Buffalo area is so snowy, the building codes require homes and businesses to be able to handle up to 50 pounds per square foot on their roofs, which would be about as heavy as a slab of concrete 4 inches thick, according to Mark Bajorek, a structural engineer.
As anyone who has ever shoveled snow knows, its weight depends in part on how wet or fluffy it is, not just on how deep it is. But Bajorek said some buildings may be close to that limit now, with more precipitation on the way.
Karen McRae clears snow from her driveway on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in West Seneca, N.Y. A new blast of lake-effect snow pounded Buffalo for a third day piling more misery on a city already buried by an epic, deadly snowfall that could leave some areas with nearly 8 feet of snow on the ground when it’s all done. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Associated Press writer Michael Hill and Mary Esch contributed from Albany.
Snow covers a street at daybreak Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, in south Buffalo, N.Y. Buffalo-area officials are getting help from a neighboring county in their efforts to clear roads and provide emergency services during the snowstorm that has buried sections of western New York in more than 5 feet of snow. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Homeowners opened their front doors to find themselves sealed in by sheer walls of white. Shovelers turned walkways into head-high canyons. A woman gave birth in a firehouse after the snow prevented her from reaching the hospital.
Even for Buffalo, a place that typically shrugs at snow, this was an epic snowfall — the kind of onslaught folks will be telling their grandchildren about.
The Buffalo area found itself buried under as much as 5½ feet of snow Wednesday, with another lake-effect storm expected to bring 2 to 3 more feet by late Thursday.
“This is an historic event. When all is said and done, this snow storm will break all sorts of records, and that’s saying something in Buffalo,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a visit to the city.
The storm came in so fast and furious over Lake Erie early Tuesday it trapped more than 100 vehicles along a 132-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway that remained closed Wednesday. People were marooned at homes, on highways and at work. Residents who can handle 6 inches of snow as if it were a light dusting were forced to improvise.
Snowdrifts create a beautiful setting as a man tries to dig out his driveway on Bowen Rd in Lancaster, N.Y. Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. A lake-effect snow storm dumped over five feet of snow in areas across Western New York. Another two to three feet of snow is expected in the area, bringing snow totals to over 100 inches, almost a years’ worth of snow in three days. (AP photo/Gary Wiepert)
Tom Wilson, of West Seneca, split a Salisbury steak frozen dinner with co-workers and tried his best to get some rest when he was stuck 36 hours at his warehouse job.
“I slept on a pallet. Then I slept on some office chairs, and then I went back to the pallet,” he said. “Then I found some sponges to lay on. I found one pack of sponges unopened. That looks like a pillow to me.”
“We tried to make popcorn with a two-by-four, two empty pop kegs, some charcoal and a dust pan,” he added. “It didn’t work.”
Trapped on a team bus on the Thruway for nearly 30 hours, the Niagara University women’s basketball team melted snow for water, posed with long faces for pictures that were posted online and generally tried to keep each other’s spirits up.
“I’m sure when it’s all done we’ll look back at it and remember how great a bonding experience it was. For now, I think everyone just wants to get home and sleep in their own beds,” said coach Kendra Faustin.
In a Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 photo, Brian F. Miller clears snow off his wife’s car on Boyd Street in Watertown, N.Y. Before he finished his wife announced from the porch that she didn’t have to go to work at the Jefferson County Courthouse due to weather. A ferocious lake-effect storm left the Buffalo area buried under 6 feet of snow, trapping people on highways and in homes, and another storm expected to drop 2 to 3 feet more was on its way. (AP Photo/The Watertown Daily Times, Justin Sorensen) SYRACUSE OUT.
How snowy was it? The National Weather Service said it was so bad that some of the spotters it relies on to update accumulation totals couldn’t get out of their houses to take measurements.
Bethany Hojnacki went into labor at the height of the storm and ended up giving birth in a Buffalo fire station after she and her husband couldn’t get to the hospital. Baby Lucy weighed in at 6 pounds, 2 ounces. Mother and child were later taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Cuomo said Wednesday afternoon that all trapped travelers had been removed from their cars, though some truckers were staying with their rigs.
Asked by reporters how officials could allow people to be snowbound in cars for 24 hours, Cuomo cited a jackknifed trailer that prevented plows from removing fast-falling snow, and drivers’ own wrongheaded choices.
“What happened was, even though the Thruway was officially closed, people went on. We didn’t immediately block every entrance. It was a mistake,” Cuomo said.
In this photo provided by Chrissy Hazard , a dog looks at the snow that was blown in the back door of the home of Chrissy Hazard on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 in Cheektowaga, N.Y. A ferocious lake-effect storm that trapped people on highways and in homes under up to 6 feet of snow continued to bear down on the Buffalo area Wednesday even as another looming storm was expected to dump another 2 to 3 feet on the region. (AP Photo/Chrissy Hazard )
“Part of it is citizen responsibility,” he added. “If the road is closed, it’s closed.
The storm was blamed for up to six deaths in western New York, at least three of them from heart attacks. Erie County officials said a 46-year-old man was discovered in his car, which was in a ditch and buried in snow 24 miles east of Buffalo. It was unclear how he died.
Sunny skies returned to some hard-hit areas Wednesday, but workers were still trying to cart off the acres of snow. Lake-effect snow fell heavily on some northern New York areas east of Lake Ontario.
With an additional 2 to 3 feet possible by Thursday, the one-week totals for the Buffalo area will approach the average snowfall for an entire year: 93.6 inches, or close to 8 feet.
In this photo provided by Chrissy Hazard, Mark Hazard, his son Jason and Bryan Juda shovel out the snow from the home of Chrissy Hazard on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 in Cheektowaga, N.Y. A ferocious lake-effect storm that trapped people on highways and in homes under up to 6 feet of snow continued to bear down on the Buffalo area Wednesday even as another looming storm was expected to dump another 2 to 3 feet on the region. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Chrissy Hazard )
The highest snowfall total for the Buffalo area this time was 65 inches, recorded in Cheektowaga. National Weather Service meteorologist David Church said that forecasters haven’t determined yet how this storm ranks, but that 60 to 70 inches in 24 hours is probably in the top 5 for the region.
The heaviest 24-hour snowfall on record in the Lower 48 states is 75.8 inches, which fell at Silver Lake, Colorado, in 1921, according to the government.
The governor said it would take four or five days to clean up.
The Buffalo Bills offered $10 an hour plus game tickets for people willing to help shovel out the stands in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, in the snow belt southeast of the city.
Team spokesman Scott Berchtold said the team has an estimated 220,000 tons of snow to remove from the stadium before Sunday’s game against the Jets — more than ever before.
A massive band of lake effect snow moves through the south of Buffalo, N.Y. on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014. Several feet of lake-effect snow paralyzed the Buffalo area Tuesday, forcing state troopers to deliver blankets and other supplies to motorists stranded on the New York State Thruway and adding an ominous note to a wintry season that’s already snarling travel and numbing fingers from the Midwest to the Carolinas. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee)
The snow was heaped so high on the roof a Cheektowaga home that when it fell, the force blew in the back door, frame and all, and filled the living room with snow.
“It was a huge crash. … We actually thought that it was the roof coming down in the house,” said Chrissy Gritzke Hazard, who was home with her husband, five children and three of her children’s friends.
Amtrak passenger train service between Albany and the Buffalo area was suspended. And that old “Neither snow nor rain …” Postal Service motto? Mail delivery was interrupted in certain communities with driving bans.
The storm struck Buffalo on a day when temperatures dropped to freezing or below in all 50 states. At least a foot of fresh snow was expected in parts of Michigan through Friday, adding to deep snow on the ground.
In Corpus Christi, Texas, experts are caring for about 140 turtles stunned in a cold snap that left the reptiles stranded on Gulf Coast beaches.
Art Hauret pauses after he measures the nearly four foot accumulation of snow in his driveway on Summerfield Drive in Lancaster, N.Y. Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. A ferocious storm dumped massive piles of snow on parts of upstate New York, trapping residents in their homes and stranding motorists on roadways, as temperatures in all 50 states fell to freezing or below. (AP photo/Gary Wiepert)
Associated Press Writer Michael Hill contributed from Albany, N.Y.
A pedestrian using her smartphone on a street in Tokyo, November 3, 2014. Growing ranks of cellphone addicts are turning cities into increasingly hazardous hotspots. AFP / Yoshikazu Tsuno
When the lights change at the Shibuya crossing in Japan’s capital, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian thoroughfares, hundreds of people with their eyes glued to smartphones pick their way over the road.
Despite being engrossed in the latest instalment of Candy Crush or busy chatting with their friends on messaging app Line, most manage to weave around cyclists, skateboarders and fellow Tokyoites.
But the growing ranks of these cellphone addicts are turning cities like Tokyo, London, New York and Hong Kong into increasingly hazardous hotspots, where zombified shoppers appear to be part of vast games of human pinball.
“Hey, watch it!” barks a middle-aged salaryman as a hipster typing on his smartphone slams into him during one recent Friday evening crush hour.
“Incidents involving people walking or on bicycles account for 41 percent of phone-related accidents,” Tetsuya Yamamoto, a senior official at Tokyo Fire Department’s disaster prevention and safety section, told AFP.
A pedestrian using his smartphone on a street in Tokyo, November 3, 2014. Growing ranks of cellphone addicts are turning cities into increasingly hazardous hotspots. AFP / Yoshikazu Tsuno
“If people continue walking around looking at their phones, I think we could see more accidents happening.”
It goes beyond being an innocuous inconvenience where both people apologise before continuing on their merry way.
Tokyo Fire Department, which runs the ambulance service in the megalopolis, says that in the four years to 2013, 122 people had to be rushed to hospital after accidents caused by pedestrians using cellphones.
As well as the vaguely comedic incidents of businessmen smacking into lamp-posts or tripping over dogs, this total also included a middle-aged man who died after straying onto a railway crossing while looking at his phone.
More than half of Japanese now own a smartphone and the proportion is rising fast, including children who customarily walk to and from school.
Pedestrians use their smartphones on a street in Tokyo, November 3, 2014. Growing ranks of cellphone addicts are turning cities into increasingly hazardous hotspots. AFP / Yoshikazu Tsuno
Research by Japanese mobile giant NTT Docomo estimates a pedestrian’s average field of vision while staring down at a smartphone is just five percent of what our eyes take in normally.
“Children wouldn’t be safe in that situation,” said Hiroshi Suzuki, manager of corporate social responsibility at the company. “It’s dangerous and it’s our job to make sure it doesn’t actually happen.”
The company ran a computer simulation of what could occur in Shibuya if everyone crossing the intersection was looking at their smartphones.
The results, based on a fairly average 1,500 people swarming over the road at any one time, were alarming: 446 collisions, 103 knockdowns and 21 dropped phones. Only around a third get to the other side without incident.
That 82 of the 103 who fell to the ground managed to cling onto their precious phones tells its own story.
Japanese media reported that around half of the 56 bodies recovered from the peak of a volcano after a recent eruption were found clutching mobile phones with photos of the deadly lava and ash on them.
Pedestrians use their smartphones on a street in Tokyo, November 3, 2014. Growing ranks of cellphone addicts are turning cities into increasingly hazardous hotspots. AFP / Yoshikazu Tsuno
Apparently, they had thought it important to be able to show their social media friends what was happening than to try to save themselves.
Suzuki travels to schools across Japan teaching children how to be responsible with smartphones through the use of cartoons.
“We use the story of the tortoise and the hare,” he said. “The hare shoots off tapping away on his smartphone, and then falls down a hole. We want the children to know they could be the hare.”
Phone fidgeters dawdling along at snail’s pace, forcing cyclists and pram-pushing mums to swerve out of the way have become such an irritant in Tokyo that public notices have started to appear warning offenders to expect “icy stares”, appealing to the Japanese sense of social harmony — assuming people look up from their phones in the first place.
Smartphone apps activated by sensors that flash warning signs or display the pavement on the screen have also been developed in response to the problem.
Tokyo is just one of the places struggling to cope with this very 21st Century menace.
In China, an amusement park in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing has divided a pavement within its grounds into two lanes — one signposted “No mobile phones” and the other “Mobile phone use permitted but all consequences are your responsibility.”
Recorded announcements on Hong Kong’s subway network warn passengers in Cantonese, Mandarin and English that they are about to step onto an escalator.
While in one city in New York state, there was even a bid to legislate against the use of electronic devices while crossing the road.
NTT Docomo’s Suzuki in Tokyo says despite the city’s high density and huge population — 35 million in the greater urban area — there’s no need yet for people to wear crash helmets when they pop to the shops.
“I don’t think we will see the need for that in the near future,” he said. “But our message is that it could happen. We’re all potential victims.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) confers with Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin (R) before addressing the U.N. Security Council during the 69th U.N. General Assembly in New York. Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Moscow opposes calls to limit veto rights for UN Security Council members, a Russian diplomat was quoted as saying by TASS news agency Friday.
“We’re against any change in veto rights,” Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said on the sidelines of the 69th UN General Assembly in New York.
He added that “talks about a reform of the Security Council need to continue,” but did not elaborate.
A proposal to suspend veto rights in the event of grave crimes against humanity that mandate urgent reaction, pitched in 2013 by France, was revived at a high-profile discussion at the assembly.
Separately, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski urged a reform of the Security Council in a speech at the assembly.
Komorowski gave no outline for the reform, but explicitly linked his calls to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is accused of backing pro-Moscow separatists who are fighting the Ukrainian army.
The Security Council, established in 1946, is the only UN body whose decisions are binding for members.
The council, which hands out mandates on military and peacekeeping operations, has five permanent members: Russia, the United States, Britain, France and China, all of whom can veto a decision.
The council also has 10 non-permanent members, which hold positions for two-year terms, but they have no veto rights.
Russia has repeatedly deployed its veto in recent years to block decisions lobbied by Western powers, including draft resolutions on war-torn Syria and Ukraine.