Olga, 41 y.o., Kazakhstan: “The only inhumane thing is the law, not my diagnosis”

Two years ago, my husband and I decided to move to Russia, our historic land: I am from a family subjected to political repression who were exiled to Kazakhstan; after the collapse of the Soviet Union, my family was rehabilitated. My husband was born in Russia, but his parents moved to Kazakhstan in 1980s. My parents are medics, I dreamed of being an English translator bur studied energy engineering. After finishing the university, I started to work in my professional field, got married (to another engineer) and took a maternity leave, soon after followed by a second one.

First one to leave for Russia was my husband, as he was offered a job. When he had established his life there, we joined him and started to work on getting our legal documents in order. Before moving, we sold all our possession in Kazakhstan. We decided to apply for Russian citizenship through a homelander resettlement program. During the medical examination before applying for temporary residence permit, I discovered I had HIV. I was in shock. Then comes denial: impossible, a medical error, someone must have messed up the test-tubes. “This cannot happen to me, I am not some outcast”, — I was thinking. But when the second test confirmed the initial suspicion, I had no choice but to come to terms with the situation I ended up in.

Doctors made the matters worse. I got the diagnosis and was immediately told: “You can prepare your luggage to go home, you have no chance of staying here”. I left the clinic crying. I told my husband: “How can I even think of going home? I have you, I have my children, I have a job here”. My husband and I returned to the doctor’s office together. We explained that we have already sold everything back at home, and now our whole life is here. We were told that maybe if we bring this matter to court, I may be granted a permission to stay.

One of the conditions for getting Russian citizenship through a homelander resettlement program is that your family members do not have diseases harmful for the population. We got a rejection. Afterwards we filed for a legal separation with my husband, so that he could apply for the program again. He and our children obtained the needed documents, but I had to return to Kazakhstan. I was left alone, without my family and home; if not for my parents, I would have been left without even a shelter.

While still in Russia, I started to read everything about HIV, its viral load and other parameters. I repeated the test and went to consult the doctors on what to do and which treatment to take. I was advised to take vitamins… It was clear that the AIDS center was of no help to a foreigner, so I found an NGO helping people like me, and finally received proper care.

I know I am a foreigner here, but I am convinced that the Russian government should treat everyone in a humane way. We are the same as all others, it’s just that our blood is different. In 1990s, posters saying “AIDS is a 20th century plague” were hung on every corner, and it seems that people still hold on to that belief. However, now there is a grand medical and scientific progress; if one takes their medication regularly, there is no way of passing on the virus. Moreover, people receiving such treatment can safely give birth to healthy children.

Isn’t it about time to change the policy and evaluate each case individually? How is it possible to even consider the entry ban or deportation when my whole family lives here? Just imagine, it’s been a year since I last saw my children. To help my family get their residence papers, I had to divorce my husband, leave my children, and go abroad. The only inhumane thing is the law, not my diagnosis.

Seeking help, I contacted NGOs in Europe, and was surprised by their answers. “Yes, you can come, your HIV-status is not a problem”. I saw a different attitude. But I want to reunite with my family in Russia and live there. My kids know about my diagnosis, I tell them everything and help them navigate on what to do in order not to repeat my mistakes.

Written by Ekaterina Ivashchenko

Pictures by Aleksandr Nosov

To read the story in Russian, please follow: https://migrationhealth.group/olga-kazakhstan/