Woman from Russia’s Dagestan shares her ‘homosexuality treatment’ story

A monologue by a victim of conversion therapy in a rehab for drug addicts, homosexuals, and atheists

Photo from a personal archive

Another scandal about Dagestani rehabilitation centre Alliance Recovery is raging in Russia. The centre treats patients suffering from alcohol and drug addiction and “cures” homosexuality and atheism. According to Crisis Group SK SOS, the number of these “rehabilitation centres” offering the so-called “conversion therapy” treatment has been growing in Russia. Before, such practices were mostly common in the North Caucasus, but now they are spreading to other regions, too, human right defenders say. Law enforcement agencies, as a rule, ignore reports of such crimes.

Novaya Gazeta Europe has already covered the story of Magomed Askhabov who was subjected to this “therapy” by force. It was recently reported that another patient had been able to escape from the “rehab”. Elina Ukhmanova was taken to and kept in the centre by force, on her parents’ request. We have tracked down the former patient of the “rehab” and asked her to share her story.

I grew up in Khasavyurt, a Dagestani city near Chechnya, our family is Chechen. I’m the oldest child. My mother tongue is Chechen. I was not allowed to speak Russian at home. I speak Russian without an accent thanks to my school teachers.

I don’t remember much about my childhood. I remember my drunk father coming home, throwing himself at my mum, endless fights. Mum would leave him and go to her relatives’ place, leaving the children at home. Sometimes, she’d take us with her. Often, she’d get angry and beat us for doing something wrong or behaving as children. My father would raise his hands against me less often.

When I got older, my father would ask me if I remembered him taking me on walks and to different places, and I realised that I didn’t. Mum would always be admonishing dad for something, talking about religion, she’d try to get him to follow the new canons of Islam. To pray, not to drink any alcohol. And with time, he did become much more religious.

Once, we had our aunts come to visit, and the topic of conversation turned to domestic violence. They said that women shouldn’t allow and encourage abuse from men.

To this, my mum replied saying that women were created to endure. And added that she’d think of herself as disgraced if she were to leave her husband.

My family kept in close contact with our Chechen relatives, always lived according to Chechen traditions and rules. It’s a closed community, outsiders are not allowed in. Although Khasavyurt is on Dagestan’s territory, I had met basically no Dagestanis before going to university. Our village’s population was entirely Chechen, everyone in my school was Chechen. Only after becoming a university student did I start learning about the local customs and mentality.

In school, I was always the “nerdy” one. I dreamed of having friends and wanted to live vividly, like they do on TV shows and in movies. But I didn’t get to.

When I was a teenager, I fell in love with a girl from my school. I didn’t tell her back then, but I confessed after graduation. She treated our conversation as a joke, and we haven’t seen each other since.

From the age of 14, I spent a lot of my time on VK [the biggest Russian social networktranslator’s note], talking to my peers who were also LGBT. That was my only escape. We discussed movies, TV-shows, talked about what was happening in our lives, about our studies, work, favourite breeds of dogs. Among the people I talked to, there was a guy who came out and underwent gender transition while we were in contact. He told us about the process and what problems he faced. Everyone was supportive. But in general, we didn’t share too much about our personal lives in the chat. I also kept my anonymity.

Photo from a personal archive

My parents wanted to send me to a Chechen university, but eventually let me go to a university in Makhachkala [the capital of Dagestantranslator’s note].

Before my first attempt at running away, I kept my interests and opinions that differed from my family’s views to myself. My relatives thought I was a good girl, an obedient one. Meanwhile, I was just waiting for the right moment to run away and was planning my escape. I had known since I was in school that I didn’t want to live there.

During the summer after my first year of university, I didn’t go back home. I passed my exams and found a job. I messaged my dad and told him that I didn’t believe in god and understood that my parents wouldn’t accept me if I had such views.

I told my mum in a Telegram message that I was bisexual and then threw my SIM card away, changed my phone number, and went to Kaspiysk [a city in Dagestantranslator’s note] for several days. My parents were trying to find me through my classmates, friends, and acquaintances in Makhachkala. They also went to the police, reporting me as missing. And I got caught because of my own stupidity.

Before, I never had to interact with police officers, so when I received a phone call from a police employee, I thought that he would take my side. I went to the nearest police station to sign a document stating that I don’t need to be looked for, that I left home of my own free will. I have the right, I’m of age. But my friend and I were taken from the Kaspiysk station to the district police department in Makhachkala. It turned out that the original phone call had come from there. The police officer who had called me began shaming me, pressuring and guilt tripping me for running away from my parents. Soon, they too showed up. The police officers just let my mom and dad take me, despite me asking not to go.

My parents told me that I wanted to leave home to become a prostitute and that I wouldn’t be able to become anyone else. I don’t know how exactly they reacted to my sexual orientation, but having caught me after my first attempt to run away, they started trying to convince me to marry my boyfriend.

They live in such a small and closed world that they don’t see life outside of their inner circle and outside of [Dagestan]. My parents are certain that the university ruined me. They regretted having sent me to study in Makhachkala instead of Chechnya. We have a lot of relatives there, it’d be easier to control me.

Soon after my return, they took me to see an Islamic theologian. It was a small room in a mall. He “diagnosed” me by pointing his fingers at me while reading out loud from the Quran, and said there were no jinns inside me, that it was “all because of the phone” and that “she needs to wear a hijab”. He gave us a bottle of holy water to go and told me to bathe in it. I didn’t do so. My parents were unable to make me wear a hijab, too.

My parents didn’t agree with the diagnosis and took me to another exorcist a short time later. We arrived at a private house. I was made to lie down on a bed, my entire body got covered with a cloth, and [the exorcist] started to chant prayers over me.

I was too scared to move, so as not to have them think my movements were made by a jinn. I was touched with sticks and hands; I wished it would be over as soon as possible.

A week later, I went to Makhachkala and rented a flat with a female acquaintance. My relatives began looking for me again and asking my friends about me. They couldn’t track me down for a month.

Later, I learnt that my parents had approached Alliance Recovery, a rehabilitation centre for people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. Managers of the centre, Magomedshapi Gaziyev and his partner, called my friends, introducing themselves as police officers, pressuring and threatening them. Some of my friends shared information about me.

Photo from a personal archive

Once, a friend I was staying with left for work but soon called me and said that he had been contacted by the police; they were asking to let them into the flat so I could be taken to the district police department.

The ones calling were the rehabilitation centre managers. My friend let them in. I will never forget what happened. Two men entered the flat, showed me some kind of licence. They were recording everything on camera. They brought me outside and put me in a car with no licence plate, without answering any of my questions. They drove me to some backyard. A three-storey building with the windows and doors barred up. I was told that my parents had sent me there and that I would undergo treatment there.

The kitchen and the security room were on the first floor, the patients’ rooms on the second, and a lecture hall on the third. A schedule was put up on a wall. We had to wake up at 8 AM. The person on kitchen duty had to cook breakfast. Everyone was taken to the morning exercises, then to breakfast, and then to lectures given by a psychologist.

Ex-drug addicts were called psychologists there, they were the ones giving the lectures. After the lectures, we received our tasks for the day. One of the tasks was, for example, writing down the story of our first time using drugs or the first time we consciously desired to do drugs. Nothing very interesting happened for the rest of the day. Lunch, dinner in the evening, then time for bed.

I have never done drugs, I’m not an addict. I kept asking: what do I write? The managers told me to write about my childhood, my parents, the issues with my parents. And I had to write something. Magomedshapi Gaziyev said that I was an addict but I didn’t realise it.

We were punished for failing to complete tasks and bad behaviour. For example, they could deprive us of lunch or dinner. Once, I had a fight with another patient, and as punishment we were handcuffed together. We had to walk everywhere together for a day.

One time, I cleaned the kitchen badly, so I got reprimanded and punished. I had to keep writing the same text over and over again for the whole night:

“I’m an irresponsible lazy junkie who feels indifferent towards their own life and many other things, who is used to living their own way, without changing anything about their life. If I change nothing, I will eventually die just like a kicked dog sitting under a fence.”

I tried to think about nothing, just completed the task, so I would be left alone and not punished again. I saw other rehabilitants, who managed to stand out in some way, be physically punished. One time I saw Iznaur, a Chechen guy, be handcuffed to a railing because he got into a fight with another patient. He had to stand like that for a day. I was very scared that I’d be treated like that, too. After what I had seen, I tried not to stand out, to be unnoticeable, to be nice and obedient.

We received a food delivery once a month. Sometimes, we would run out of food before the next delivery. We would ask the manager to have more food delivered, but he would delay it, and we would have to survive off potatoes and cabbage. We wrote down a list of the items we needed every week, gave it to the management, and they handed it over to our relatives. The families packed parcels and passed them over, also through the management. I lived in the centre from 23 July to 23 November 2021. It cost my parents about 100,000 rubles (€1,250).

I asked to meet with my parents or at least talk to them over the phone. But I was denied.

I was very scared, especially during the first days. I didn’t know why I was there and didn’t see any point in being there. Of course, my relationship with my parents wasn’t the best, but I would’ve never guessed that they could lock me up in such a place. It was a betrayal for me. Before, I never interacted with older men, unless they were relatives. Here, I was surrounded by men I didn’t know, aged from 27 to 47, and all of them were drug addicts, even though they were in treatment. During the first days, I slept in the security room together with the guard. For a long time, I was the only girl there. During the last month, two more Dagestani girls were brought in. They went there to be treated voluntarily. One was a drug addict, the other an alcoholic. They believed that the clinic would help them.

One of them told me that she had been promised she’d be housed in the female unit. She was told she would have to barely interact with men. In reality, we spent all of our time with men, we only slept separately.

Back in the summer, I started asking the managers of the clinic what would happen next. I had to go back to the university [in September], I wanted my parents to be reminded of the fact. But the managers told me to forget about studying.

Four months later, my parents came to take me home. From then on, I basically lived under house arrest. I would constantly get into fights with my parents. They beat me, threatened to murder me, to put me into a nuthouse, to send me to an Islamic centre in Chechnya. I probably had depression; I didn’t want to do anything. My parents made me go with them to visit our relatives, to hold conversations, to do chores around the house.

I wasn’t allowed to use a phone, my sisters were prohibited from giving it to me. My sisters actually supported our mum and blamed me for making her cry. One of my sisters was subjected to more abuse than me in our childhood, but for some reason she justifies it. I was a quiet kid, while she was more insolent, and sometimes she got punished. Now, she’s apparently okay with it all, with all the rules and restrictions.

I would wake up at 4 PM, then not go to sleep until 4 or 5 AM. We only had one book in the house, Gone with the Wind. I read a few pages every night, to make it last longer. There was nothing else to do. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house. I felt like an animal who has been kept in a cage its entire life, then let out for a short time, and put in a cage again. Even now I feel like this is a dream, I will soon wake up back home, and I will have to come up with a plan to run away again.

Back then, I would tell myself every day: “Today, I will run away.” This went on from November until August. What stopped me was the fear of getting caught again, of having to relive my nightmares, of the next punishment being more severe. They threatened to send me to a madhouse, to marry me off, to tie me to a tree in the woods…

In August, I heard them talk about it being a good idea to send me to some Islamic educational centre in Chechnya. I decided that I couldn’t put off running away any longer.

I contacted the organisation SK SOS — and one night, I ran away after all. I didn’t have anything to my name, I needed time to buy a phone and other things. I went to one of my friends, at whose place I had hidden once already. He let me stay with him. A few days later, he called me and said that I had been found, the police were on their way. I knew this would happen and I didn’t hesitate. I urgently contacted the human rights defenders; following their advice, I called a taxi and went to a safe place. Then, they helped me leave [Dagestan].

I’m still terrified of being found. Together with a lawyer, I filed a statement with the prosecutor’s office against the management of the rehabilitation centre. I’m ready to take a stand in court and testify, I want them to be held responsible for the crimes committed and the damage done.

My parents continue trying to find me and bring me back home. They deny abusing me and sending me to a clinic to be cured of atheism and bisexuality. I’m not angry with them, but I primarily worry about my safety. In the future, I could see myself communicating with my sisters and brother. They hate me and support our parents, but they’re my loved ones. All three are younger than me. We spent all of our time together, took walks, shared problems. Seeing as I’m the oldest, my parents always told me that I was a terrible example for my sisters and brother. They threatened me, saying that my younger sister would not be able to find a husband because of me. And no one would marry my younger brother. In any case, it wasn’t my sisters and brother who made the decision to abuse me.

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The crisis group helped me a lot. I was given a psychotherapist; I feel good now. I want to continue my studies, I can’t wait for an opportunity to present itself. I’m trying to learn coding and continue learning physics, because with time many theorems and formulas get forgotten. I want to work in rocket science, to develop rocket engines for space flights. I ordered a book about rocket science and read it in its entirety.

I had dreamt of going to the university from which I ordered the book, but my parents had only let me choose between universities in Dagestan and Chechnya. If in the future I am able to combine physics and astronomy and continue my learning, I will study rocket science.

I’m very interested in Elon Musk’s work. I read everything I could find about him. I can’t wait for him to send an expedition to Mars or at least to the Moon. The people who will agree to participate will be heroes and pioneers. They will lay down their lives for the sake of the future. And I understand this desire.

Sailors of centuries past travelled to unknown ends of the Earth knowing that the journey could be their last.


According to press secretary of Crisis Group SK SOS Alexandra Miroshnikova, the lack of investigation into torture and kidnappings is explained by the corruption of the system, the general unwillingness to see the problem.

There are at least two centres located in Dagestan that “treated” the people the crisis group is helping — Alliance Recovery and Start. The human rights defenders are verifying information on other institutions of the kind.

The representative for the organisation notes that in the North Caucasus, the entire system and society work against their clients — those who were hurt because of their views, being atheist, or being part of the LGBT community.

“When it comes to other regions, it’s very hard to make law enforcement bodies help you in any way, but in the North Caucasus, the entire system will not just refuse to act but also work against human rights defenders and their clients,” Miroshnikova says.

The victims from Chechnya have it the worst. It’s the most closed region of Russia, it’s more difficult to get out of there, the voices of the system’s victims are even quieter coming from Chechnya.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.
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