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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.
The diaries of Maria Madi are pictured at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. She attached a photo of her dog and writes, “Here is Joe! Isn’t he looking mischievous?” (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post.
First published on November 29, 2014.
In December 1941, when Hungary severed relations with the United States during World War II, Maria Madi, a doctor in Budapest, started keeping a diary for her daughter, who had just immigrated to Louisiana.
Madi did not know if her daughter would ever see her words. But she wrote anyhow: About the war. About the Nazis. About the suffering of Jews. And about the two people she hid in her apartment, at times behind a large mirror when visitors came to call.
By war’s end, Madi, who was not Jewish, had filled 16 notebooks in handwritten English that serve as a grim portrait of the Holocaust in Hungary and of a defiant woman sickened by its cruelty.
“I am going to see, to hear, to witness everything,” Madi wrote, adding later, “it may happen of course that neither myself nor my diary will ever reach you.”
Now, Washington’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was given the diary last year, is preparing to post it online in the coming months and hopes eventually to have it fully transcribed.
Among the thousands of Holocaust diaries, Madi’s is a rare account written in English by a non-Jewish member of a local gentry, the museum said.
Maria Madi was a non-Jewish Hungarian doctor who kept a handwritten diary during the Holocaust as she hid two Jewish friends. (Family photo)
It is blunt, harsh in parts, compassionate, wistful, sarcastic.
It tells the story of an unusual woman, a British-
educated, divorced Hungarian doctor who held some negative views about Jews but risked her life to hide a Jewish friend, Irene Lakos, and her friend’s 7-year-old nephew.
The nephew, Alfred Lakos, now 77, who lives in Waleska, Ga., north of Atlanta, said recently: “She was a hero, in my book.” His aunt survived, as well, and died in Italy in 1998, he said.
The Holocaust, the slaughter of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis and their allies, came relatively late to Hungary, which was allied with Germany.
In a June 19, 1944, entry, Madi attached clippings from a newspaper where Jews who had been kicked out of their homes were looking for apartments. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
But by the end of the war, more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews had been murdered, many of them in the gas chambers at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, historians have said.
In Budapest, Madi, then in her mid 40s, watched in dismay as Jews were humiliated, harassed, and rounded up to be sent to labor or concentration camps.
Alfred Lakos’s father, Laszlo, for example, was sent to a labor camp, from which he escaped, and survived. His mother, Rosza, was sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed.
Alfred Lakos, center, at age 7, is seen in 1944, flanked by his father, Laszlo, who was sent to a labor camp and survived the Holocaust, and his mother, Rozsa, who was killed in the Nazis’ Auschwitz camp. (Courtesy of Alfred Lakos)
With his parents gone, and alone in his apartment, “Fredi” Lakos found refuge with Madi, and a place in her narrative.
Madi, who had lived alone and was unaccustomed to children, found “the poor little worm” exasperating during the almost four months he spent cooped up in her apartment.
“I am never alone,” she wrote on Jan. 7, 1945. “The child is all the time talking, irritating, making noises and trouble.”
Two weeks later, she wrote: “It is with the utmost self control, I can tolerate the boy here in my flat.”
Yet she soothed him when gunfire frightened him, vowed to stay with him when he was in bed with chicken pox, she wrote, and he came to be affectionate with her.
The diary, which also contains snapshots of Madi’s dog, Joe, newspaper clippings, and comments about food prices, the weather and politics, was donated to the museum by Madi’s grandson, Stephen Walton, of Amarillo, Tex.
He said in a telephone interview that the notebooks had been kept in plastic bags in a family safe for 30 years. “Hardly ever looked at them,” he said.
After the war, Madi came to the United States, bringing the diary, which she later amended slightly in pencil. She worked as a psychiatrist, Walton said. The family called her “Mami.”
She died in Houston in 1970, at age 72, he said.
“I’m humbled by the fact that she never mentioned” what she had done, he said. “It was just something she felt she had to do.”
He said the family had always kept the notebooks private. “These are about my grandmother,” he said. But recently he wondered if the Holocaust museum might be interested.
Rebecca L. Erbelding, an archivist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, has studied the 16 volumes of journals that were donated last year. She is pictured at the museum in Washington. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
“Hungary is such a specific story in . . . the Holocaust,” said Rebecca L. Erbelding, a museum archivist who has studied the diary. “It happens completely differently in Hungary than it happens anywhere else.”
“It’s so late in the war . . . 1944,” she said in a recent interview at the museum. For “the Jews of Germany it’s been coming since 1933. For the Jews of Hungary, they had been safe.”
Some Jews had even fled to Hungary, she said.
“It’s the largest and last Jewish community left in Europe,” Erbelding said. “There’s 800,000 Jews still in Hungary in 1944.”
But that March, the Nazis, suspicious about Hungary’s wavering allegiance, occupied the country. By early July, 437,000 Hungarian Jews had been rounded up and were sent to ghettos and Auschwitz, Erbelding said.
Madi’s journal, which chronicles much of this, was a risky enterprise.
“This diary would be sufficient to hang me five times a week,” she wrote in 1944, adding in another entry: “I am rather astonished I am not . . . reported for my allied sympathies.”
Written mostly with a fountain pen, the diary began Dec. 23, 1941, after Hungary’s declaration of war on the United States.
“Since we are at war with the states, there’s no more any hope for me to join you, my only ones,” she wrote, addressing her daughter, Hilda, then 21, Hilda’s husband, George Walton, 29, and their 4-month-old daughter, Barbara.
She might not see them again for years, she wrote, according to a partial transcription compiled by Erbelding. “And who knows whether we’re going to survive at all.”
Four months later, on April 24, 1942, Madi was worried about her Jewish friend, Irene Lakos, whom she called by her nickname, “Lacy.”
“She is nice as always and tries not to be bitter. . . . She says they . . . are grateful for every day they can still spend in their flat.”
Things got worse after the German occupation started March 19, 1944.
“Jews will have to wear the yellow star from April 5 on,” Madi wrote on March 31. “They are sick with shame and fear, marked thus, they may be set out to any brutality.”
A few weeks later she wrote: “Almost every day new atrocities and cruelties happen. It is difficult to register them all and too painful too.”
By the fall, violence, arrests and deportations were increasing, and on Oct. 17 Madi came home and found Irene Lakos and her nephew waiting for her. She took them in.
As the days passed, and visitors came to call, she often hid her “friends,” as she called them, in the bathroom and in an adjacent apartment.
Outside it was the “darkest middle ages,” Madi wrote. There was shooting. Neighbors turned up missing. Yet she maintained some of her era’s prejudices.
Maria Madi’s diaries are pictured at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. She attached a piece of shrapnel that she found outside her home. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
“The more I am attached to my Jewish friends, there is a certain Jewish type I hate,” she wrote on Oct. 28. “And the best joke is this seven year old child is just the worst type, whom I try hard to save. No bad quality, we used to know as Jewish qualities, is missing.”
Alfred Lakos, who has a copy of the diary on a CD, remembers little from those days. In old family photographs he appears as a handsome boy in shorts, high socks and sport coat.
“Based on the diary, I was a very rambunctious child,” he said. “According to some of the statements Maria made I was a pain in the butt. She was not used anymore to a seven year old.”
“I may have made her mad or something,” he said. “Let me put it this way, I was very spoiled.”
“Don’t hold this against her,” he said. “She risked her life to save two additional lives. . . . She is a hero. Thank God that we had people like her.”
On Oct. 30, 1944, with the Nazis in control of Budapest and the extermination czar, Adolph Eichmann, hard at work there, Madi worried that snooping neighbors or officials might discover her guests.
“Tonight the janitor was here to register the amount of hot water used this month,” she wrote. “I had to show him therefore into the bathroom, but put my friends — before opening the door — behind the book mirror. It was a splendid joke, like hide and seek.”
On Feb. 5, 1945, she wrote that there were German soldiers in her building, replaced two days later by the Russians.
On Feb. 17, she wrote that Fredi’s father, who had also been in hiding, had arrived the day before.
“Exhausted . . . he was still happy to find his sister and son safe,” she wrote. “He and Fredi are off this morning, early, they have to do a good day’s walk and the child is untrained.”
On Nov. 5, 1945, with the long war in Europe over, she made a final entry for her daughter:
“This is the end of scribbling,” she wrote. “Last night I addressed my first direct letter to you. From now on there’s no more sense in writing in this diary.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (R) gives a press conference with Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg (L) after talks in Kiev on November 18, 2014. © AFP
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged Russia to restart talks on de-escalation of war in eastern Ukraine. “We are inviting Russia to serious talks in some neutral territory. The United States and European Union countries are helping us in that,” Yatsenyuk said after meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Kyiv.
Yatsenyuk’s remarks came as NATO noted a further buildup of Russian or Russian-led troops both on Ukraine’s territory and across the eastern border in Russia, despite a cease-fire agreement signed in September.
“This is a serious military buildup and we call on Russia to pull back its troops,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was quoted by Reuters as saying.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited Kyiv on the same day to meet with the president and the prime minister, also remarked about an increase of tensions in Ukraine, and said the European Commission might arrange an international conference on economic assistance to Ukraine early next year.
“It’s most likely that the European Commission will arrange a special conference early next year to introduce economic stability in Ukraine,” Steinmeier said.
Ukraine’s industrial output declined by 9.4 between January and October, the nation’s statistical agency reported on the same day. Ukraine’s financial needs are estimated to be several fold over the $17 billion earmarked by the International Monetary Fund, and growing amid the Russia-sponsored war.
Russia has consistently denied accusations by western leaders of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, insisting that such accusations are “hot air.”Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the Ukrainian authorities to “immediately enter an all-encompassing internal Ukrainian dialog with participation of all the regions, and fulfillment of the Minsk agreements.”
The Sept. 5 Minsk agreements and follow-up protocol, signed by the Ukrainian authorities, as well as representatives of the Russian Federation, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and separatist leaders from Donetsk and Luhansk regions, laid the foundation for de-escalation of war in the east of Ukraine.
The sides agreed to move troops away from the front line to create a war-free buffer zone between the separatist-controlled parts of the territory and the rest of Ukraine. The central government agreed to give a broader autonomy to the secessionist regions in exchange for a promise to hold local elections there under the Ukrainian law in December.
However, the self-proclaimed governments of Luhansk and Donetsk regions held illegal local elections on Nov. 2, and the central government cut all budget payments to the regions as a result.
Lavrov on Tuesday condemned the move. “Unfortunately, instead of establishing lasting contacts with those who do not accept the result of the military coup, Kyiv took a course towards the social and economic worsening of the east, and threatens to renew the forceful solution of the conflict,” ITAR-TASS agency quoted Lavrov as saying.
A hunger riot in Yenakiyeve, says the caption in this Youtube video.
In the meantime, local media in Luhansk and Donetsk regions reported growing unrest in the regions, where people are running out of both cash and food. Dozens of people in Yenakieve, Donetsk Oblast, came to the mayor to demand social payments and food. Similar incidents have been reported in Torez and Makiyivka.
In Luhansk Oblast, commandant of the town of Chervonopartyzansk told the local site 05366.com.ua that the town no longer reports to the self-proclaimed authorities of the Luhansk People’s Republic.
“We have differences with the leadership of the LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic). We do not report to either them, or Novorossiya,” Denys Ponyzovy was quoted by the website as saying.
The website also noted that at least five townships in Luhansk region are talking about an autonomy and are unhappy with the self-proclaimed Luhansk leadership.
Iraqi security forces personnel fire artillery during clashes with Islamic State militants, in Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad October 26, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer
Esther Tanquintic-Misa, International Business Times | World.
An Iraqi intelligence report cited by Fars News has disclosed the radical and blood-hungry ISIS militants have been receiving arms and food support dropped by aircraft from the United States. The cargoes were allegedly dropped under the guise of air raids.
The report’s disclosure came after Iraqi security sources uncovered a large ISIS weapons cache in west Baghdad over the weekend. Portal Al-Shorfa.com, quoting Brig Gen Saad Maan, spokesman of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, reported the loot, found in an ISIL cell active in the capital, was made up of “about 500 kilogrammes of explosives, light and medium weapons, ISIL black flags, communications devices and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”
Upon closure inspection, Iraqi forces said the weapons were much too “state-of-the-art,” prompting theories the weapons can only come from the U.S. Each of the bullets were believed to cost $2,000, Fars News said, noting the bullets “pierce armored vehicles and kill the people inside the vehicle.”
“What is important is that the U.S. sends these weapons to only those that cooperate with the Pentagon and this indicates that the US plays a role in arming the ISIL,” an Iraqi security source told FNA. The crisis in Iraq escalated when the ISIS captured Mosul on June 10. This was followed by the fall of Tikrit, some 140 kilometres (87 miles) north west of Baghdad.
Since then, Iraqi soldiers as well as volunteer forces have joined in the fight to ward off the ISIS from further entering Iraq. Both forces have been engaged in heavy fighting with the militants. They have so far managed to push back the ISIS in several areas.
This follows the pronouncement of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the weekend that the Pentagon will rush training Iraqi forces to combat the militant ISIS. The mission will use troops already in Iraq.
And just on Monday, the U.S. has approved selling additional military weapons to Iraq. According to portal worldtribune.com, the military weapons sale request involved air weapons as well as spare parts for artillery and trucks, amounting to nearly $700 million.
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A North Korean flag flutters on top of a tower at the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea, in this picture taken near the truce village of Panmunjom on Nov. 12, 2014. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters.
A new governmental agreement drafted by Russia and North Korea will see Moscow hand over Koreans who have fled the totalitarian regime in their native country.
The deal comes at a time when Russia is strengthening ties with the isolationist leadership in Pyongyang, apparently to snub the United States, said Andrei Lankov, a leading Russian expert on Korea.
The agreement may yet prove to be a formality, experts said — but Russia has handed over escaped North Koreans before.
Russia has similar agreements with many countries and blocs, including Ukraine and the EU. But the North Korean deal stands out because the UN has explicitly advised against the forcible repatriation of North Koreans, who face jail and even execution for fleeing the motherland.
The agreement, available on the Russian government’s website, outlines expulsion rules and procedures for illegal immigrants from North Korea, whose leadership has been accused by the UN of crimes against humanity.
The same rules would apply to Russians illegally entering the far eastern state, though experts polled for this story could not recall a single such instance.
The draft is dated Sept. 2, but has so far flown under the media radar. The text says the deal is to be finalized by the Federal Migration Service, which did not return a request for comment sent Thursday. Nor did the government’s press office.
A Trickle of Refugees
Experts estimated in the mid-2000s that at least 10,000 North Koreans were arriving every year to work in Russia, which has a 19-kilometer border with their country.
That figure, however, only includes those who arrived in Russia legally. Most are working migrants employed in the logging and construction industries.
Illegal migrants from North Korea number several hundred: only a fraction of the estimated 300,000-strong community in China, their main destination, said Lyubov Tatarets of rights group Memorial.
Tatarets, based in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, provides legal help to North Koreans educated enough to know how to request asylum — who she said number only a small proportion of the refugees.
“Most stay undercover and live here for years,” she said by telephone Thursday.
But the North Korean refugees arriving are increasingly better educated than commonly believed, and know to seek legal help, said Korea scholar Lankov, who teaches at Kookmin University in Seoul.
Russia has an agreement on illegal immigrants with North Korea, but it dates back to the 1950s, said Yelena Burtina of migrant rights group Civil Assistance.
Moscow appears to have no cohesive governmental policy on North Korean asylum seekers as yet, experts agreed. Migration authorities have expelled some and allowed others to stay, or at least safely leave for third countries, though no statistics are available.
In a fresh court case this week, Memorial succeeded in getting the decision overturned of the Federal Migration Service to deny asylum to a North Korean refugee, identified only as Kim, who has fled North Korea twice.
During the famine of 1997, Kim escaped to China, but later tried to move to Russia, fearing extradition, according to Memorial. However, he was relying on an old map that still depicted the Soviet Union instead of Russia, and so ended up at the border of Kazakhstan, which repatriated him. He was one of the few survivors of a mass breakout from a labor camp last year, and managed to get to Russia — where he was arrested and initially denied asylum.
Russian authorities may be afraid of granting asylum to North Korean refugees en masse in case word gets back to Pyongyang that it is doing so, Tatarets said.
A Milder Crime
Official Pyongyang has recently launched a crackdown on runaways, disgruntled that its supposedly loyal citizens are ready to bolt the country at the earliest opportunity, Lankov said.
The new draft agreement does not stipulate the immediate expulsion of illegal immigrants: That is only to be done at the request of the country hosting the immigrant. This means it may just be a technical document, experts said.
Penalties for fleeing North Korea are much softer than they used to be, Lankov said. While two decades ago, illegal emigration meant the firing squad, now it is more likely to be a moderate beating and up to a year in prison, unless the failed escapee publicly criticized the regime.
But extradition to North Korea was nevertheless decried by a special report of the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year.
“Extradition to North Korea is a crime, pure and simple,” said Burtina of Memorial.
Moscow and Pyongyang, geopolitical allies from Soviet times, have made moves to strengthen their alliance in recent months.
In May, Russia finally wrote off most of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt. The following month, Pyongyang said it would loosen visa regulations for Russian investors and even allow them uncensored access to the Internet. And last month, the two countries sealed a $25 billion deal on modernizing 3,000 kilometers of North Korean railroads over the next 20 years.
The alliance is Russia’s indirect retribution for U.S. sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March and alleged meddling in the Ukrainian civil war, Lankov said.
“Moscow is showing the U.S. that it can create problems for it elsewhere in the world if pressure persists,” the expert said.
“It’s also a bit of an emotional reaction, backing a staunch anti-American David against Goliath,” Lankov said. “Though to be fair, Pyongyang is actually much more pragmatic than they think in Moscow.”