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Everyone is free. Mikhail Zygar, author of the story of how elections in Russia ended in 1996, married in Portugal


February 2020. It is still more than a month until the World Health Organisation announces a pandemic coronavirus. So it comes as no surprise that the Radio House on Italian Street in St Petersburg is being attacked by dozens of journalists, writing and with television cameras.

The whole horde is led by Jean-Michel Scherbak. It is he who is in charge of media relations. That evening, little attention is paid to Jean-Michel, although his appearance contrasts with the dull and grey city. The audience is eager to see Mikhail Zygar, Theodor Kurentzis and, of course, Elisabeth Boyarsky.

At the Radio House, the star-studded cast will present the Mobile Art Theatre's production of I Lived, based on the works of Olga Berggoltz, the 'siege Madonna'.

That night, no one in the audience could possibly imagine that in a matter of two years Russia would start a war with Ukraine, that the Dozhd TV channel, where Zygar was editor-in-chief for five years, would be listed as a foreign agent, just like him, and that Mikhail would once again tie himself in knots of marriage. With a man. The same man who stood by his side on a February night in 2020 while his future husband answered the journalists' questions under the light of dozens of on-camera cameras.

Jean-Michel Scherbak
Freeze frame: "Pushkin's Tales. For adults"

The general public was shocked by Zygar's coming-out in October, when he announced his marriage to the very same Jean-Michel Scherbak. Mikhail had been married to Maya Stravinsky for nine years. They had a daughter Elisabeth in 2010. But when has that ever stopped them? There are not countless examples of this on national television. But people can change. In general, the media crowd gossiped but was not surprised.

Others, of course, did not immediately believe it, and they are understandable.

For Russia, particularly for liberal Russia, Mikhail Zygar was (I hope, still is) a kind of pillar. An icon.

A graduate in international journalism from MGIMO, an employee of the Kommersant publishing house, and a war correspondent. He has covered the wars in Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, Palestine, the revolutions in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, the unrest in Estonia after the removal of the Bronze Soldier, the unrest in Serbia and Kosovo. Lecturer, writer, director, creator of the Mobile Art Theatre, bestselling author of All the Kremlin's Men, The Empire Must Die, War and Myth, and All Are Free. He is a favourite of the public and, let's face it, of Russia's political and economic elites. Winner of the Enlightenment, Culture Online, GQ Person of the Year awards, and the Runet Book Award.

All in all, an athlete, a Komsomol member and simply a beauty. Suddenly (actually, not at all though) a wedding in Portugal, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2010.

"We got married (it's probably correct to say married). Love, freedom, truth, happiness. It's time to start liberating ourselves," Mikhail wrote on his Instagram.

Photo: Jean-Michel Scherbak / Instagram

With Shcherbak, as it turned out, and Zygar had been together for three years.

Jean-Michel was born in 1992. His mother is a native of Uzbekistan. His father is Guinean. Their son was named after the French musician Jean-Michel Jarre. Apparently, the name determined his fate. Shcherbak graduated from St Petersburg State University of Economics in 2015, and as early as 2019 he enrolled at Moscow Film School.

He soon made his film debut in The Red Queen, starred in the series The Last Minister and Pushkin's Tales. As well as producing the show "Revizorro", he also starred for advertising brands Armani, Dolce & Gabbana. But it was the Marriage for Buzova project in 2018 that brought him fame.

"It's hard for me to count how long we've been together. Our journey started off very difficult and after three years we decided to legitimise our relationship... All my life I had been struggling with myself, adjusting to conventional rules and precepts, dating girls and breaking up, also with guys. I've been shutting myself off and opening up, endlessly distancing myself from my loved ones because of my secrets and getting closer to them. I invented other worlds for them and then destroyed them.

One thing did not change: I repented of the same sins, humiliated and punished myself, considered myself unworthy and begged for forgiveness. I was very much afraid of going to hell, until I realised that hell is my life...".

This is what Jean-Michel told his followers about his new status.

But now everyone is free. And most surprisingly, even the Russian public (or its impressive part) is clearly attracted to the couple.

Photo: Jean-Michel Scherbak / Instagram

"Man, their husband is prettier than mine. Any of them", "What a handsome husband Zygar has", wrote under the video of Jean-Michel proposing to Misha.

Under Zygar's post, Natalya Vodianova, Ksenia Sobchak, Alexander Gudkov, Ekaterina Varnava, Anna Mongait, Varvara Shmykova, Natella Krapivina and dozens of stars and thousands more subscribers congratulated the newlyweds. And the hatred, of course, how could it be without it.  Scrapes, "Sodom and Gomorrah," green emoticons - there is plenty of that stuff too.

Zygar's ex-wife Maya Stravinskaya supported the couple, publishing a candid text.

"Misha and I got married because we loved each other, and we broke up because we were no longer in love. And that was ten years ago.

Staying friends was difficult. Marriage is not just about love, it is also a social contract, it is about relatives, mutual friends, responsibilities and power, investment and ownership, and these... comments, reactions, statements.

For me, the hardest part of breaking up has been the people in white coats covering their own rottenness with it and demanding that you deal with your feelings the way they want and feel is right.

But Mishka and I have been lucky. We grew up together, we share the same base, the same values, and a beautiful daughter. And so we went through these trials, throwing out everything unnecessary.

We left the important stuff behind - truth and joy. And on this you can build a real friendship. Especially when your friend's partner is also a kind and good person.

So we can have fun and be sad together.

I know that I can go to Mishka, and he will support me and I will support him. When I broke up with my boyfriend at the beginning of the war, for example, I called Jean-Michel weeping and he comforted me and made me laugh. And when neither Mishka nor I know what to say to Lizaveta, Jean-Michel does just fine.

So to the commenters who ask, "but why marriage?", I would answer like this. Marriage is not just about love, but about the complexity of life, which would be cool for everyone to experience...

Make love not war!

And to you, my dear Michael Zygar and Jean-Michel Scherbak, I wish you great happiness", - wrote Maya Stravinskaya on her Facebook page.

By: Sonya Rodochinskaya

Cover Photo: Michael Zygar / Instagram

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