Foster grad Evgeny Erofeev with Dubs
From Russia, One Love
After fleeing Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ law to keep his family together, Evgeny Erofeev has forged a new life, career and community in Seattle through Foster
Foster grad Evgeny Erofeev with Dubs
When Evgeny Erofeev (MBA 2023) and his husband, Andrei Vaganov, adopted their two sons in Russia 15 years ago, they could only put one parent’s name on the birth certificate.
“In Russia, it’s illegal to adopt kids if you’re in the LGBTQ community,” Erofeev explains. “That’s why my husband was the only legal parent.”
The family of four lived in Moscow and led what Erofeev says was a pretty good life. But in 2019, a trip to the emergency room changed everything. Within a day, Erofeev’s family was packing up everything to flee the country. All because their son mentioned he has two dads.
“We are not going back”
In June 2019, Erofeev’s youngest son was rushed to the emergency room after complaints of a stomachache and vomiting. It turned out to be nothing serious, but he did tell hospital staff he doesn’t have a mother—but does have two fathers.
The staff reported this to Russian authorities, launching an investigation.
Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” law bans teaching minors about LGBTQ+ issues. Erofeev and Vaganov were accused of breaking this law because they did not hide the fact that they were married from their kids.
When they went to pick up their son from the hospital, they were told to report to the police the next day. The family called their attorney for advice and were told to leave the country immediately.
“We had an hour and a half to prepare our luggage and move from Russia to another country,” says Erofeev.
They fled to Ukraine, where they were advised to wait and see how the investigation would unfold. Over the next month, though, things did not improve. Then a representative from the Federal Assembly, Russia’s national legislature, gave a speech calling for Erofeev and Vaganov to be added to the INTERPOL (International Crime Police Organization) wanted list. “That was the last signal that we are not going back,” says Erofeev. “That’s when we applied to asylum in the United States.”
Building a new network
The family arrived in Seattle that August knowing they would have to completely restart their lives. They had to learn English, adapt to a new culture and find new jobs. In October 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and with no network in place, Erofeev restarted his career as an account manager.
“It was difficult. I had been head of retail (in Moscow) and I decided to start as an account manager because I didn’t have a network here,” he says. “I saw I needed something else, and I thought about a master’s degree.”
Using LinkedIn, Erofeev started looking at people working at companies where he wanted to work. “I noticed the Foster School was popular, so I reached out to about 20 alumni to learn more about the school,” he explains.
In the fall of 2021, two years after moving to the United States, Erofeev began his studies in the Foster School’s Technology Management MBA Program. He found supportive and insightful professors and bonded with a strong student community of surprising diversity. “That was so helpful during the TMMBA journey,” he says. “Having so many diverse experiences in the class led to out-of-box thinking and helped us all avoid group thinking.”
When Erofeev decided to seek a new job while in the program, he received enormous support from TMMBA’s Career Management (especially director Sussie Buysse), and another big boost from the Foster alumni network.
He scheduled more than 20 informational interviews with willing alumni, including many at Microsoft. This left him more than ready to launch a new career.
“When I had my actual interviews,” he says, “I was prepared because the alumni gave me the information I need to know.”
All that preparation paid off. Erofeev started a new job as digital sales specialist at Microsoft last September. “The Foster community helped me a lot to get this job,” he adds.
Lending a hand on LinkedIn
Erofeev realized that his experience starting a career from scratch in a new country and with no connections is not unique, which is why he’s giving back and paying forward.
In addition to providing tax filing support to low-income families through United Way of King County, he volunteers as a LinkedIn instructor through Hopelink—the nonprofit agency that helped his family resettle in Seattle. In this capacity, he shares his networking and job search skills with Ukrainian refugees and people in the LGBTQ+ communities to help them get their own careers on track.
Through his classes on building a LinkedIn profile and how to apply for a job, Erofeev estimates that in two years he’s helped around 300 people.
He believes it can only help to provide people the resources they need. “You received advice and help during a period of time when you were struggling, and right now is your time to provide your experience and your knowledge to the community,” he says.
A family by law, at last
After nearly four years in Seattle, Erofeev and his family have settled in. His husband recently started a new job and is considering going for his own master’s degree. Both kids are in high school and starting to think about college. Erofeev says it was difficult when they first arrived, but now he can say everything is good again.
“I believe, after this situation in Russia, I can say I am stronger because it gave me like a superpower to start a new life or anything new,” he says.
Among the new things in their lives: new birth certificates for their children. In 2020, Erofeev and Vaganov started the second parent adoption process. A few weeks after their case was in court, the couple received new birth certificates with both their names on them.
“It was exciting!” says Erofeev. “Because now I can say I’m a legal parent, and I couldn’t say that in Russia.”