Maria and Alexandra vaguely considered leaving Russia for several years, but it was not until this year?s anti-gay legislation that they started to gather paperwork.

The quiet, academic lesbian couple, who live with a 7-year-old daughter in the outskirts of Moscow, have now lost hope that Russia is moving in the direction of Europe, where same-sex marriages are increasingly legalised despite opposition from conservatives.

?Before, there was hope that everything would improve, but instead the trend has reversed. I hope that we will leave,? said Maria, aged 31 who has a daughter Lilya from a short-lived marriage that she is now raising with her partner of six years, Alexandra, aged 30.

Earlier this year President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning the dissemination of ?gay propaganda? to minors, which has already prompted an international outcry and even calls for Russia to be stripped of its right to host the Winter Olympics.

In practice, the law means that anyone in Russia can be fined for telling children that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are equal. This ?really speeded us up? in wanting to leave the country, Maria said.

Everyone interviewed by AFP for this article requested that only first names are used, and some asked that even the first names are changed, in order to keep their identity secret. AP

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