A well-known Russian television host announced live on air that he is HIV-positive, an unprecedented revelation in a country with rising infection rates but where HIV/AIDS remains a largely taboo subject.
Pavel Lobkov, a presenter on the independent TV station Dozhd and a former news anchor on state television, made the announcement during a show on Tuesday evening, on World Aids Day.
He is the first Russian public figure to openly declare himself HIV-positive.
Russia has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, with around 1,000 new cases diagnosed each month and a total of almost a million people known to be infected, with the real total likely to be much higher.
Lobkov, 48, said that he learnt of his condition more than a decade ago, in 2003, after asking to be tested at a private clinic.
Describing the brutal way in which he was informed of his status, Lobkov said he saw “HIV+” written in red on his file and that the doctor told him he could no longer receive treatment at the clinic because “you are HIV positive.”
The room “had an open window, very low down,” he said, hinting that he had contemplated suicide.
“Today I accomplished a serious feat in my life,” he said of his revelation.
Lobkov is known for being outspoken. He was fired from the state NTV channel in 2012 — a move he said was prompted by his attendance of opposition demonstrations against Vladimir Putin`s return to the presidency.
His disclosure of the fact that he is living with HIV won praise from many Russians.
“Such a step has a huge meaning for everyone with the status,” human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov wrote on Twitter.
But the journalist also sustained a stream of online abuse, mostly maligning gays.
In a Facebook message on Wednesday, he thanked those who had voiced support for his “battle with medieval attitudes” and “total everyday lying”.
“I started perestroika with myself, as Mikhail Gorbachev told us,” he added, referring to the economic reforms of the late Soviet era.
The World Health Organisation last month said that Russia accounted for 60 percent of all diagnoses of HIV in Europe in 2014, with heterosexual sex the main route of transmission of the virus which is spread through contact with contaminated body fluids.
A public health campaign in Moscow urges people to be faithful to their partners, rather than promoting condom use.
Russia also does not approve methadone replacement therapy for drug addicts, which allows them to stop injections, preventing them from contracting HIV from tainted syringes.