In the face of a repressive government, Russian harm reduction and legal aid organizations are working to end HIV in one of the world’s few countries where new infections are actually increasing.
This documentary film, titled #NonExistentWeExist, profiles service providers who are working with—and often are themselves—people who use drugs, do sex work, are HIV positive, and are queer or trans. People who share these experiences are targeted by state policies through policies like the ban on opioid substitution medications, drug user and HIV registries, and “gay propaganda” laws.
#NonExistentWeExist, as its title conveys, simultaneously invokes pessimism and optimism. The police show indifference to harassment and abuse of sex workers, and injection drug users face hostile medical providers at seemingly every turn. Prevention campaigns feature posters calling for the end of HIV—yet proven methods for decreasing transmission risk, like sterile syringes, and care for people who are positive, like antiretroviral therapy, continue to be inaccessible.
The film, co-produced by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, also illustrates how people directly impacted by the state’s “narcopolitics,” as some Russians refer to drug policies, nevertheless find ways to support and care for one another.
The film closes with a quote that captures the tension in Russian harm reductionists’ work: “Do your duty, and whatever will be, will be.”