Feature writing

Love story

This lesbian couple sailed oceans to be together. Their epic journey is far from over.

The Daily Beast

July 13, 2018

Russian Elena Ivanova and Canadian Meg Stone spent 10 months at sea, defying storms and tempestuous seas, to reach Canada. But their love story and safety are far from settled.

A lesbian couple confronting homophobia, falling in love, and sailing across storm-tossed, death-threatening oceans to be together sounds like the plot of a stirring film—and that is exactly what the Russian Elena Ivanova (not her real surname) and her Canadian partner Meg Stone hope their story will become.

A more complex question is whether they will ever escape the high seas—and how much they want to. Twelve years ago, the women say they traveled 15,000 miles across the oceans on their boat, which they later called Boadicea, “the vessel of freedom” (its real name is different, and they asked me not to use it because “it is like giving people your address,” said Elena).

The mammoth voyage almost killed them, they say; yet as much as the sea and its storms have proved perilous, the sea has also proven to be Elena and Meg’s most secure, known home ever since.

The women both say they never want to see the sea again, and yet it is also where they feel safest, especially now, as the couple face a seventh year of not knowing whether Canada will ever grant the Elena full citizenship. This state of unknowing means, they said, that they are unable to plan their lives as a family, fear separation, cannot freely move around, are denied the protection of the state, and cannot “fully participate within society.”

Meg said they have felt “bullied” by Canada, and “treated with systemic contempt.” Meanwhile the government-sanctioned homophobia of her home country is a cause of great concern and upset to Elena.

As they wait to hear Canada’s decision about Elena’s citizenship status, Meg and Elena are seeking to make financial and cultural capital from their experiences. The women want their story to stand as an inspiring LGBT narrative of love against all odds, and are currently looking to have it made into a film.

There have been meetings with lawyers and producers. They have a website, with a video of them sailing on the seas in rough weather and smooth, from Turkey to the west coast of Canada—“half the world,” as they call it. Elena has written about their experiences in a book, Talking To The Moon, currently published only in Russian.

When we spoke in June, the couple was on one of their sorties away from Canada, in Charleston, South Carolina, where they had sailed from Meg’s home in British Columbia. They are welcomed in America, they said. “Big, burly fishermen in Massachusetts” had wept over their story. They have nothing but scorn for the Canadian immigration system, and they feel persecuted by the Canadian authorities. They told me that they wished America would take them in.

When questioned by The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) revealed that a decision on Elena’s citizenship would be made “within the coming weeks.” Elena and Meg are not holding their breaths for a positive resolution. They revealed to me that their next plan was to see if a European country would take them in, as Elena puts it. And yes, they plan to sail to Europe to find out.

The women say they met in the summer of 2005, on a Russian-based dating website. At the time, Elena was 26, and Meg four years her senior, Elena said (Meg declines to divulge her age). Elena’s hometown was Ivanovo, about 155 miles northeast of Moscow. Meg was living in Victoria, British Columbia.

“Meg defined herself as a lesbian,” recalled Elena. “That was such a revelation for me—that someone could define themselves as a homosexual. It was one of the first steps towards my own liberation. That was when I started thinking I could also be free.”

Meg told The Daily Beast that she had not been looking for a girlfriend. She was interested in practicing her Russian with a Russian speaker. Elena was intriguing because she didn’t make “snappy little jokes” like other online correspondents. “She was quirky, interesting, she wasn’t showing off.”

If Elena’s feelings for Meg seemed stronger initially than Meg’s for Elena, Meg still “felt I had a tremendous connection with her.”

Meg told Elena things the Russian woman “could not conceive of”: Meg was a pilot of small aircraft, a sailor, she was building her own home, “things that women in Russia don’t do,” said Elena. “If they did, they would be considered weird and put in their place. I was groomed to be a wife and mother. When I saw that Meg was free to do what she wanted I clung to that and clung to that idea of freedom.”

Elena’s upbringing “wasn’t that bad,” she said, but she never spoke to anyone about her homosexuality. It was only when she came out that her parents turned nasty. It was hard for her, she said, to know how to be gay because she didn’t know any other gay people. “I was afraid to acknowledge my homosexuality. The one thing I knew is that society didn’t accept it. The mentions I heard about it were dismissive. There were jokes. Society made it clear that women were to marry and have children, they were not allowed to do anything else.”

Elena’s parents were both architects, she said, working for the same organization, as did Elena. Her mother kept a close eye on her. Elena was trying to postpone dating men for as long as she could. She had never had a permanent boyfriend, and her mother was concerned. When Elena turned 25, she insisted her daughter have more men in her life. Her mother indicated a male colleague and told Elena: “You better start dating him before someone else does.”

Elena had grown up a tomboy, she said; her games all involved machine guns and cars. She had had teenage crushes on other women and attractive female celebrities. Before meeting Meg, Elena had been in love with another woman who lived in her home town. “We dated nine times. I marked them on the calendar, every single one, because they were so precious to me. But I would be careful not to press the pencil on the date too hard—so my mother wouldn’t notice how important those dates were to me. It was like being a spy. It was awful.”

The other woman was four years older than Elena and had two children. Her husband had discovered her communication with other women online, and he—along with her parents—had blackmailed her into staying with him. In the end, said Elena, she left him and her home and the last Elena heard she was living with her children alone.

Elena did as her mother wished. She dated the guy at work. After eight months with him, she felt like his pet, “owned” by the man and her mother. “Pretty much, every day doing what they wanted and not what I wanted was killing me slowly. It was like being sold into slavery. Society manipulates you in amazing ways. That manipulation is very effective.”

Elena managed to avoid having sex with the man for as long as possible, “but there were occasions when I felt obligated. It was awful. I was heading to catastrophe, disaster. Everything in my life was heading in the direction of marrying him. I couldn’t speak to anyone about it. I couldn’t say a word or I’d be ostracized.”

When she met Meg, “it couldn’t have been a better time. Her appearance in my life saved me. Looking at her, and listening to her, I thought, ‘I can fight,’ and I started fighting for myself. The first important step for anyone fighting is to realize, ‘You are a human being. You have rights. You have freedom. You cannot let these people do this to you.’”

Up until meeting Elena, Meg (birth name: Morgan) told The Daily Beast her life had been “deep and meaningless. I came from a wealthy family. I would go out and do things, always looking for adventure, showing up in parts of the world with my camera where revolutions were happening, like Ukraine and its Orange Revolution. I loved the intensity, danger, I love being on the edge of danger.”

Meg told The Daily Beast that she was raised in Calgary. Her father was an award-winning doctor. “He was ‘God,’ let’s face it, as doctors tend to be.” She said this childhood was “nasty. Dad was violently alcoholic. It was hard to be around. I would say he definitely has a borderline personality disorder and narcissism. He manipulated the family. He had us at each other’s throats. He threw me through a wall. Suddenly there was a big hole, and I had made it.”

Meg’s mother, she said, was an enabler of such behavior, trying to get out of harm’s way as much as Meg did. “I learned how to duck, and avoid a flying gin bottle.”

As a little girl she was always outdoors, active, experimenting, taking things apart to see how they worked. She loved puzzles. “I was a brat. I was always hyperactive. I was a poster child for justified infanticide.”

At university Meg said she studied “a bunch of stuff.” She wanted to fly planes so set up a small air business. “I wouldn’t say I actually worked a day in my life. I don’t think I actually want to. I started flipping real estate. I wanted to build the perfect, beautiful house, as if to create the perfect family childhood which I didn’t have. So far, I am still doing it. I haven’t run out of money yet.”

Meg realized she was a lesbian at a young age.

“It was terrifying. I knew something was ‘wrong,’ and it was the deepest, darkest, most horrible secret possible. You had to isolate yourself because of it. When I was in school I didn’t have anything to do with anyone else. I got away from the school lunch break to go to the field to look at insects and ants carry things. I was weird, definitely geeky. I went to the local university to play on the computers, and write tiny programs.”

Meg never really came out, she said. She just started living her life in Canada and later Europe. When she told her family, “it was like, ‘You’re disgusting, get out, we don’t want anything to do with you.’ I was pushed away, and my mother and maybe father at least made sure I had enough money to stay away. It was fine with me, it allowed me to do what I wanted to do.”

Meg dated men and women, and had some long-term relationships but had never “fully invested” in a relationship until she met Elena.

After corresponding online, Elena and Meg arranged to meet in Kiev in the Ukraine. Elena couldn’t tell anyone; she said her parents would have thrown her out of the family home if they found out. On their video, she said she knew she was “declaring war” on her family, turning every person in her life into an “enemy.” “I developed the strength to go to Kiev, I would do anything to accomplish that,” she recalled.

The women arranged to meet on Feb 16, 2006. “That date became my escape date, I started preparing for it,” Elena said. Her boyfriend found out about the trip, and pressured her into keeping their relationship going until the very last moment, under threat of him revealing all to her parents.

The day she left for Kiev he accompanied her to the bus station. “He was with me till the very end—the bulldog who couldn’t let me go. He was torturing and tormenting me.”

He gave her a note declaring his love for her, and chocolates; all Elena wanted was to get to Kiev. She was living for seeing Meg, she said. “To see her finally. We had been separated by oceans and land for so many months. We were craving to see each other.”

She followed her fellow travelers as if in a trance, ending up in the arrivals area. “I was so out of it I could barely move. I saw her eyes and recognized her. She wore glasses.” They bonded immediately, and Elena felt free for the first time in her life. She knew “Russia would never let me have Meg,” so she chose Meg over Russia.

Elena’s parents had other ideas. Over two weeks, there were anguished phone calls once they realized what had happened. They told her to return home, and when Elena refused they said they would come to Kiev to see her and Meg. “I thought if my parents saw that I was happy that they would be happy for me,” she said.

Instead, on arrival at the McDonald’s where she and Meg were, they again asked Elena to return home. Elena asked Meg to leave them to talk. Her parents grabbed Elena’s arms, restrained her, and insisted she come home with them.

They told Elena that Meg was a criminal cult leader who wanted to inveigle Elena into prostitution, and sell her organs. She refused to go with them. She tried to stand up for herself. In desperation, Elena called Meg back to the restaurant. Her father punched Meg and spat in her eye, and tried to force Elena from the restaurant. The police were called.

“It was astonishing,” said Meg of finding herself in the middle of such an intense situation. For the two weeks in Kiev before Elena’s parents showed up, the women had been getting to know each other and enjoying sightseeing.

Though she hadn’t had any expectations of love and romance, in those first few days Meg had felt “My hunch was right, we were good together, and the relationship was tightening up quite nicely.”

However, Meg could see Elena’s growing upset after the phone calls and emails from her parents. “It looked like she was having a nervous breakdown. I found it a little bit disturbing, and couldn’t understand the extent of it until we were attacked in McDonald’s. I realized we were involved in something really twisted and insane.”

Elena’s concern, said Meg, was that she was scared Meg would run away if she told her the truth about her parents. Meg doesn’t think she would have, but when Elena asked her to leave the McDonald’s, she did as she was asked. And when Elena called her frantically a few minutes later asking her to return, she did that, too.

“When I walked in, I could see her parents were beating her up, she was defying them,” recalled Meg. “She saw me and I think that gave her strength. She threw her bag at them. She was screaming at me to get help. The other customers sat around and did nothing. For them, it must have seemed like some kind of domestic incident. Her father got me with a haymaker punch. He floored me. I was calling for people to call the police. Nobody did anything.”

A security guard did call the cops, Meg said, “apparently alarmed at the threat to McDonald’s furnishings, and potential damage to property.”

Meg followed Elena and her parents to the police station. Meg said she eventually bribed the officers to let them go. When they were there, the women were told, said Meg, that there were people after them. “I don’t know if it was true.” There were “crazy incidents” when they were in the city, she said. She was hit by a car, the couple was chased too. The women still don’t know if these were random incidents, or orchestrated somehow by Elena’s parents.

Meg said the Canadian Consulate told her it would evacuate her from the country if she would leave Elena behind. But Meg knew she couldn’t leave Elena, and that Elena didn’t want to return to Russia.

The Consulate advised the women to leave the Ukraine as soon as possible. They spent several weeks there, trying to figure out their next move, to find a “trap door” of escape. (The Daily Beast has approached the Canadian Consulate in Kiev for comment but did not receive word by press time.)

Meg knew how high the stakes were. “Elena’s life was on the line. She could have gone back to Russia and had an arranged marriage, but it would have destroyed her. She made that clear to me. In the Ukraine we kissed in public and held hands, and some older women spat on us and made the signs of the cross and said ‘Beelzebub’, but that didn’t bother us. Risking our lives had become real.”

Elena’s parents left Kiev, and stole Elena’s passport. “I couldn’t go anywhere from the Ukraine apart from Russia, and my parents knew that when they stole it,” Elena said. A friend eventually stole Elena’s passport back from her parents and sent it to her, but the women still didn’t know what to do.

The Canadian Consulate in Kiev said Elena would have to step foot on Canadian soil before requesting asylum in the country, and so the idea germinated that the women would sail to Canada.

They went to Odessa first, then Marmaris in Turkey, which Elena was able to enter. Meg found a 14-meter sailboat, and mortgaged her Canadian home to purchase it. (To date, Meg had only sailed a 26-foot “day-sailor” boat in British Columbia, but never sailed at night or that far from the coast—“just casual sailing with friends.”)

The women had two months in Turkey before their visas ran out, during which time they prepared for their epic voyage, buying up food, first aid and other necessities.

Their journey by sea would take 10 months, from June 2006 to April 2007. Landing was forbidden by all en-route countries; and the women were concerned that any SOS call would result in Elena being arrested and deported back to Russia.

Initially, Meg said, the women thought about offering themselves up to human smugglers. “We were nuts,” she conceded. Meg thought about buying a plane herself, and flying it.

What about flying on a regular plane if Elena had her passport by then?

Elena explained: “I couldn’t just buy a plain ticket and fly to Canada with Meg because I didn’t have a Canadian visa in my passport. The only way for me to get this visa was to return back to Russia, back to my parents, my attackers. They would not only prevent me from collecting all the documents needed for the visa, but also would lock me up. I would not only never see Meg again, my parents would have destroyed me with the help of the police.”

Sailing seemed like a crazy idea to Meg, but it was their only option. Elena was living from one day to another. “As long as my parents couldn’t separate us I was happy, to look forward to another day, to battle to stay with Meg and be with her.”

At an airport, Meg bought and learned as much as she could from Pete Goss’ book, Close To The Wind: An Extraordinary Story of Triumph Over Adversity, about the author’s experience of the Vendée Globe – the nonstop, single-handed round-the-world yacht race. “It was my secret instruction manual. I wanted to get back to home, where I came from.”

The women began by sailing on the eastern part of the Mediterranean westwards. Their first stop was the Canary Islands, where an official said the women could stay for two weeks, and where they “repaired the boat and recuperated.”

The women supplied The Daily Beast with various pieces of travel documentation to prove the veracity of their voyage. (A Panamian document, for example, was the so-called “crew list of the yacht” which the captain of the vessel provides to authorities in the port of entry. “In our case it was done with the assistance of a company that provides such services,” said Elena.)

They crossed the Atlantic into the Caribbean, then through the Panama Canal into the Pacific Ocean. The next stage of the journey, the long sail to British Columbia, almost killed them, Elena said.

“Our journey was half a planet long,” she said quietly. “Of course there was bad weather, bad sea. I couldn’t imagine it. I’d never seen the ocean. I had no idea what I was getting into. Of course I was terrified, every single day. Holy crap. In the Atlantic there were hurricanes we survived. In the north Pacific, we were two women on the run on a boat. Anyone could have hurt us. The ocean was our only answer, so we stuck to it.”

One time, the ocean nearly killed them, Elena said, another time it was the weather. “The storms do not end. It was very difficult to run from them.” She recalled one intense storm, and a desperate fight to stop their boat from capsizing. If they sank, if they died, “no one would have known or cared,” said Elena.

Meg recalled Elena’s awful, immobilizing seasickness that Meg thought might kill her, and the first gale to hit them on their first night. Meg realized she couldn’t turn back, but she also thought about “running the boat aground in Africa, and running into the desert and hiding.”

The boat was filling up with water because its bilge pump was hooked up backwards: “I was pumping water into the boat, Lena was vomiting,” Meg recalled. “But she decided she was going to sail. Everything would be lost if we turned around. We decided that our lives were on the line, and we kept going. How we didn’t get killed is amazing, but we didn’t get killed.”

Meg recalls in their video one day bursting into tears and worried she would never stop. “That scared me more than anything. I couldn’t spend time bent over the toilet crying, I had to pull myself together.”

Elena started to feel more comfortable, and the women realized “there was nothing that we cannot do.”

They floated around the Mediterranean, afraid to start the engine to save fuel. The women learned to trust one another. “We damaged stuff, we wrecked stuff,” said Meg. “We learned how to fix it. You fix it or you die. You do lot of screaming, swearing, and crying, you have a nervous breakdown, you fall apart, and then you go to the toolbox and find whatever tool it is you need, and you fix it. You learn to think that anything is possible, and that you can make it work.”

Meg recalled being hit by one late September storm. “You make sure the waves don’t swamp you, you lash yourselves in. It is raining so hard you couldn’t let your skin be exposed to it. Elena wore a diving mask, so she could tell me when the waves were coming so I could be ready on the helm. We blew through the storm, flying.

“The boat was humming away, literally moaning and vibrating. You could feel those vibrations. Eventually the wind eases up. Gale force winds seems like a walk in the park after that. We wanted to sleep so desperately after that storm. But the sea would not let us take our hands off the helm. You wonder, ‘Do I have the strength?’ You look at Elena. She has the same question. You both find the strength to go on. The weather gets better, and you’re still alive, you’re still there.”

Of why they didn’t sail up the East Coast of the US and Canada, Elena explained: “We would be frozen into the ice if we tried to sail to Halifax. Temperatures in the East coast are very different from the West coast. Also, once we went ashore I could be arrested and detained indefinitely in Halifax while they figure out my immigration. I wouldn’t have any support there. This wasn’t an immigration stunt. This was simply us trying to stay together.”

Two weeks before they reached journey’s end in Canada, 1000 miles off the coast of San Francisco, Meg said the boat was “knocked down” by strong gales. “The sea was so cold we thought we would die. We were thinking about giving up, that we wouldn’t make it. The Pacific is relentless. Unlike tropical storms, the cold is endless. It goes on for days and days. It eventually wears you down.”

“There was no point of conflict with us,” said Elena. “Every month we got closer. We were inseparable. We still are.” Their relationship, she added, was in the sea; she didn’t know how to live on land.

By the time the women reached Canada, they were being buffeted by strong winds and snow. Elena had wrapped herself in the ship’s spinnaker to keep warm. “We were living zombies,” said Meg. The Canadian coastline, via the Juan de Fuca Strait, emerged through fog.

Then Meg saw trees, mountains, and planes in the sky. The boat was briefly diverted into American waters, leading the women to fear Elena could be arrested.

Elena explained: “American authorities closed the Canadian side of Juan de Fuca straight for gunnery exercises. All traffic was being diverted through the American side of the straight. Our only choice was to stay at sea during the gale or proceed downwind through American waters. The yacht did not veer off course.

“We were warned in Panama, by an American embassy official to stay 250 nautical miles away from US territory or risk arrest.”

At this final stage, all Meg wanted to do was sleep, she told me. Elena took the helm and steered the boat through glassy calm seas with swells, toward the Canadian harbor of Victoria.

“There was no fanfare when we landed, nobody there to meet us,” recalled Meg. “There were just streetlights and custom officials.”

Back at home, Meg didn’t feel as if she belonged there. She would talk to her friends and feel like an alien. “Everyone was talking a different language, and the only language I could understand was Elena. You feel like you’re not supposed to be there. Elena was feeling the same way. Getting back to society was very weird and difficult. Everyone knows you’re an outsider, that you don’t belong.”

Elena said she had no idea what to expect from Canada. She had cut her past life in Russia from her. “The only thing I could be happy about was that we would be on land, because—boy—though the sea was the only thing we knew, we sure got tired of it. As a human being, we can’t live there forever. We were terribly tired and exhausted to almost the point of indifference to our environment and what happened to us. We were confused. Our views and values had changed. We learned so much because of this trip. We started cherishing life so much more.

“When you sail there is nobody, nothing, out there, but the ocean and stars in the sky. You realize how small you are. Then you realize how precious life on earth is after experiencing it. It’s unsettling to come back to society with its trivialities.”

The women are angry, and baffled, as to why Canada is taking so long to process Elena’s application for citizenship. She is a permanent resident, but after six years since she began the process her application for citizenship has stalled.

“We actually think they are targeting us for some reason, that they dislike me for some reason,” said Elena. “I think they are mean-spirited. They don’t care.”

In a statement sent to The Daily Beast in response to multiple questions, an IRCC spokesperson said: “The Government of Canada is committed to extending protection to those who need it most. And we recognize that members of the LGBTQ2 community are among the most vulnerable in the world. The delays experienced by (Elena) are due in part to the fact that, at the time she submitted her citizenship application, she did not meet the basic residence requirement.

“On her application, (Elena) declared to have been residing in Canada for 824 days, which is 271 days short of the required 1095 days of physical presence.”

In response, the women claimed these figures disregard the 1600 days that Elena had already spent in Canada before submitting her citizenship application; it had taken three years for her to be admitted into the country as a refugee.

The IRCC spokesperson said that in 2015, Elena had requested that her citizenship application be given discretionary consideration.

“She provided additional submissions related to the hardships she is experiencing as a result of not having Canadian citizenship and asked that the Minister or his delegate take that into consideration when rendering a decision on her application.

“(Elena’s) application for Canadian citizenship is currently pending review by the Minister’s delegate. Applications requesting discretionary consideration for a grant of citizenship are considered to be non-routine and non-routine applications take longer to process.”

In response to that, Elena wrote in an email: “How much longer? A quarter life? A half life? Another six years?”

“The Department does not provide estimated processing times for applications requesting discretionary consideration,” the IRCC spokesperson said. “(Elena) will be notified once a decision has been made on her application. (Elena) is a permanent resident of Canada since September 7, 2011. (Elena) was issued a refugee travel document that is valid until September 28, 2019.

“To maintain status as a permanent resident, a permanent resident must live in Canada for at least two years within a five-year period. However, time spent outside Canada may also count towards the two-year residency requirement if a permanent resident is travelling with a spouse or partner who is a Canadian citizen. A decision on the application is expected within the coming weeks.”

Not feeling welcome, not feeling at home, the women have continued to travel on the same boat, all over America, Mexico, Panama, Florida, and the Bahamas.

“It is the only way for Meg and me to be free right now,” said Elena. “I wouldn’t say I love sailing, but I love the freedom it gives me. I don’t like the ocean. It represents danger to me. I’m still afraid of it. I hate being alone and lonely, but when you get away from civilization, when the towns and coast get smaller, it makes you think about bigger things than the chores you do on land.”

What Elena wants is to be a Canadian citizen, and to have the same freedom to move around as Meg does. “That would be paradise to us.”

Since the events of 2005 in Kiev, Elena’s father has died. Her mother has never acknowledged her relationship with Meg; Elena has no relationship with her.

“I can’t not miss home,” Elena said of Russia. “I spent most of my life there. I miss the culture, I miss speaking the language terribly. But I look to Russia now and I am horrified when I see how LGBT people are being treated. When I left LGBT life was hush-hush, now to see the harassment and attacks on LGBT people legitimized in that propaganda law has been awful. Now, anybody who wants to hurt LGBT people is protected. It makes me sick.

“I am an optimistic person, but if 80 percent of the population actively hates LGBT people, I don’t see how change can be achieved without a massive undertaking of the education system and media. It needs to be explained that homosexuality is not a sickness, and that LGBT people must be respected and equal. I do not think there will be any positive changes until (President) Putin is not in power any more.”

Elena hopes that as many LGBT people in Russia as feel able should fight for equality, or try to fight for their individual lives and destinies. “Try to be true to yourself,” she said. “Change in your life what you can change, without trying to change something that is out of your power.”

The women have found America, particularly Charleston, incredibly welcome. It was “terrific” to attend Pride in that city in 2016 for the first time, and be around same-sex couples holding hands. The women live off Meg’s savings, and are seeking the right film company to turn their story into a movie “to change the world and people’s lives for the better.”

It is clear the women see the possibility of making a movie as their golden ticket. Meg breaks off, mid-conversation with me, to check I am not making a movie out of their story.

They have had meetings “with very big egos, lots of yelling and screaming and bad language in lawyers’ offices. We’re trying to not get crushed in the fallout from it. But, from the comments on our website, we can tell people are so moved by what we did. We are not going to stop at anything because our lives would not be worth anything if we had stopped. If we had bailed. If I had pulled out, Lena was finished.”

“All we want,” said Meg, “is a place to stay, a place we can say that, as a committed couple, an LGBT couple, ‘we come from here.’”

Some of their critics think the women used the boat voyage as a way of getting Elena into Canada more quickly, of jumping the immigration line. “That’s not true,” said Meg. “This is love. We want to be together. We want a home, family, community, place, a country.”

Next, the women plan to set sail again; their American visas run out before hurricane season, said Meg. They will wait out the season, on the seas, north of the hurricane season in the Caribbean, and then “reset the visa clock again.”

The land and air of the Bahamas feels good, said Meg. “Also, we’re familiar with being adrift out there on the ocean, floating around, because there’s no other place we can be.”

Meg added quietly, “The story didn’t end. We left Marmaris 12 years ago, and we’re still on the same damn boat on the same damn ocean. We’re floating around, but you know what? We had an incredible journey. It’s going to be a movie, there’s no way it can’t.

“We hate sailboats. We say we want to buy real estate in Death Valley, the middle of the Sahara, as far from the ocean as possible. When I order a martini, I say, ‘It better be a dry one.’ If things continue the way they’re going, our final breaths will be sea water. We know for sure we’ll die in the sea eventually. It’s only a matter of time, unless we find a place to come in from the sea. Wherever we are we want to be together, to look into each other’s eyes when the sun sets, and again when it rises in the morning.”

On the one hand, the women also feel isolated from other people, unable to make connections. On the other, Meg said, they are optimistic for their story, the movie (she comes back to the film constantly), how the film can energize others and bring change. “People attach a label to you. We want people to live and love.”

When Elena looks back at her life, she mostly thinks “how miserable I was, holy crap, how closeted I was. If I had continued in that old life I think I wouldn’t want to live. I fear I would have ended up married to a man, and that would have been the end of my life. This was an impossible dream. The fact I met Meg saved my life. Having personal freedom is absolutely amazing, and I will never give it up.”

However, the uncertainty over their future sits alongside their determination and positivity.

“We cannot maintain this delusion, we can no longer live on false hope alone,” Meg wrote in an email about being granted citizenship. “We do not believe Canada will begin treating us with respect and dignity, and we do not believe Elena will be granted Canadian citizenship.”

And so, the women tell me, they are next planning to sail to Europe. They will see if a European country will take them in, as Elena put it. (Later, she asks to make clear she means as tourists.)

“We have been pretty much living between Mexico, USA and Canada for 6 years and one day we simply won’t be let in,” wrote Elena in an email. “There is also our emotional state to consider, we have been at it for years. We no longer can continue to play the waiting game, to continue to be victims, having no power over our lives, having no dignity.

“Also, the past behavior by Immigration indicates zero concern, and possibly malicious contempt for our lives and freedom. We are convinced it won’t be black or white, it will be another hoop to jump through. Anything but a clear answer. The move will be contrived to cause as much damage and inconvenience to our family as possible. They’ll drag the game for as long as they can, without any intention of granting me citizenship.”

On their video, Elena said she was “grateful” to everyone in her life, who led her to be with Meg and where she is—which is better than her situation was in Russia. For herself, Meg said she was looking for meaning, and knows now she found it in Kiev. What happened next has been “one hell of a journey.”

“We will go on living our lives and follow our dreams under the restrictions Canada imposes upon us,” Elena wrote in an email. “This means we will continue to live as castaways, we will continue to have no safety and no right to land anywhere in the world but Canada—the place we both find hostile and mean-spirited if the Canadian government is any reflection of its people.

“No matter how hard they try to break us, no matter where they put us, no matter where we are on this planet, unless we are banished to space, we will never stop fighting for our lives and our love.”

Today, Elena doesn’t have a Russian passport.

“The old one expired years back. And if I apply for one and travel with it Canada may initiate a cessation application against me and strip me of permanent residence status. Cessation of refugee status means that a person is found to no longer need protection as a refugee. As for the permanent resident card, it gives me no travel advantages.”

In one of her last emails before this article was published Elena wrote to me that she didn’t “feel good about talking about negative stuff only. I want to say something positive for a change—and there is tons of that. I am technically living my dream. In Russia I couldn’t dream about the things I have done and seen since I met Meg. I simply didn’t know that I, a woman, can or have the right to do them. I was convinced otherwise.

“I have an amazing relationship with Meg, I still think of it as a miracle! I am a free person, I live my life the way I want it. I am happy with myself, and everything else is just the complications of life. I also hope that what I’ve done will set an example for others.”