Dozens of men in Cossack military uniforms have been filmed patrolling the streets of Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, during its Pride Week.
The group briefly detained at least one “absolutely heterosexual” student because he had dyed hair and wore an earring, according to the e1.ru news website.
“Why’d you dress up like this? Are you one of them?” the student recounted one of the Cossacks saying to him. “Do you even know that we control the propaganda of gayness among the people?”
Russian officials have used a 2013 law banning “propaganda” of gay relationships toward minors as justification for banning gay pride events and prosecuting LGBT activists.
The student, 19-year-old Alexander Zinovyev, fired back at the Cossacks and defended his right to dress as he pleases, writing “stop harassing us, mind your own business!”
Ural Pride Week’s first day was also marred when organisers were forced to cancel a tour of Yekaterinburg’s “queer places.”
Prosecutors have warned the event’s organizers against violating the “gay propaganda” law during their festivities.
“We’ll be checking how the LGBT movement representatives comply with Russian legislation,” said Oleg Bogunevich, the deputy head of a local Cossack organisation.
Around 50 Cossacks were involved in the anti-LGBT patrols.
The patrols come after Russia adopted a set of wide-ranging constitutional changes, one of which adds language defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman to the Constitution.