MOSCOW -- The makers of a viral video in which two young men secretly filmed themselves ambling through central Moscow hand-in-hand to gauge homophobia in Russia say they were "amazed" at the degree of abuse they faced.
Walking for several daylight hours through iconic tourist sites like Red Square, the two men were subjected to verbal abuse, leered at, barged into by an aggressive passerby, and finally attacked.
"Honestly, I was amazed," Artyom Frantsuzov, one of the makers of the clip, told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "I thought the most that would happen walking with Zhenya were screwed-up faces, maybe snorts. I'm not even talking about the physical contact. I didn't think that this was possible, that people are so worried about what other people are doing."
At one point, a heavyset man in a gray hoodie walks roughly through the pair, then squares up threateningly on one of them despite his efforts to avoid the confrontation. The video then abruptly ends.
The footage -- filmed using a hidden camera and posted on YouTube on July 12 -- has garnered international attention and attracted nearly 6 million views -- a huge tally for makers ChebuRussiaTV, a Russian group known for filming pranks and "social experiments."
In 2013, Russia controversially outlawed "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors in legislation that has been criticized as hardening homophobic views and further marginalizing Russia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
The video offers a glimpse into the everyday abuse that openly LGBT Russians face, even in the center of the cosmopolitan capital.
"Social experiments are interesting," says Frantsuzov. "We've made clips on disabled people, on security at Moscow train stations. If we are able to raise issues, bring them to people for discussion, and create resonance, then why shouldn't we do this? If there are problems, then we want to attract attention to them."
In a "social experiment" titled Testing Courage, CheburussiaTV gauges the reactions of passersby to a Russian man harassing a woman in Islamic dress in a busy shopping mall, followed by public reactions to a North Caucasus man harassing a Russian woman.
No one intervenes on behalf of the Russian woman, whereas several men come to the defense of the woman in a hijab:
The ChebuRussiaTV YouTube channel is also known among its online TV audience for entirely nonpolitical prank videos.
In one, an attractive young woman in a short skirt asks men for help pumping up a bicycle tire before revealing she has a bushy moustache. In another, two actors embarrass and surprise strangers on park benches by simulating oral sex in broad daylight.
"We actually keep our distance from politics," Frantsuzov says. "We very rarely discuss it, very rarely take an interest in it. It was just that this issue [gay rights] has 'exploded' and it's hard not to have an opinion on it."
The inspiration for ChebuRussia's "social experiment" was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage in a historic victory for the gay-rights movement.
"We immediately became interested to see what Russia would think of this," Frantsuzov says.
Frantsuzov says he thinks such legislation is "impossible in Russia -- for the time being, at least."