Desperate to avoid the shadow of Vladimir Putin’s bigoted regime falling over Ukraine, LGBTQ combat volunteers told The Daily Beast that members of the gay community had been rushing to prepare for this invasion of Ukraine in recent weeks.
Now, they stand ready to fight back and resist a Russian occupation if Putin’s forces look to remain on Ukrainian soil.
Veronika Limina, who lives in Lviv in the far West of the country, has been running a camp, teaching volunteer LGBTQ cadets basic combat and paramedic skills.
She has signed up for Lviv’s territorial defense force and says she is ready to join the fighting, as Putin’s forces move West across the country.
“I am angry,” she told The Daily Beast, as the Russians bombed cities and drove tanks deeper into Ukrainian territory. “We will kill Putin.”
Limina, who works for an NGO promoting equal rights for LGBT people in the military, says the gay community in Ukraine will resist Russian occupation despite continued discrimination at home. The alternative is unbearable.
On Sunday, the U.S. warned that Russia has a “kill list” of Ukrainians to be detained or killed. The list reportedly contains many journalists, LGBTQ+ people, politicians, and government officials.
Andrii Kravchuk, who works at the LGBTQ Nash Svit Center, in Kyiv said the impact of Russia’s homophobia had been felt in his hometown in the Donbas region, which he fled after the 2014 invasion.
“We are very conscious of the threats which we have faced—as both Ukrainians and LGBT+ people. We understand that the Russian occupation would mean total lawlessness and repressions—we see it right now in the Ukrainian-occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas,” he said.
“Now we have only two options: either we defend our country, and it will become a part of the free world, or there will not be any freedom for us and will not be Ukraine at all.”
Though the war between Russia and Ukraine has been going on for the last eight years mostly in the east, it turned into a full invasion on Thursday morning.
“Many LGBT+ activists, who have an experience of participation in the Euromaidan events, are joining the Territorial Defense forces or holding training in paramedical help,” said Kravchuk. “LGBT+ people who served in the army and military volunteers are ready to come back to their service. We are doing the same as the rest of the nation.”
Russia has a history of gross human rights violations. The anti-gay purge in the Russian republic of Chechnya has driven the LGBTQ community underground. Many were detained in the region, while many more fled.
In Donbas, a south-eastern Russian-backed separatist region of Ukraine, the LGBTQ community has already seen what happens if pro-Putin thugs take control. Before the Donbas war, the gay community was flourishing but since 2013, Russia-backed separatists brought increased homophobic rhetoric to the region. In many cases, the LGBTQ community faced assault, detention, and violence.
Putin himself has a history of homophobia. While speaking at the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club last year, he said “gender fluidity” is a “crime against humanity.” He also signed a “gay propaganda” law in 2013, which pledged to uphold “traditional values.”
Kravchuk himself fled Luhansk, a region close to the Russia-Ukraine border, in 2014 after shelling started. After escaping, he moved to Kyiv where he lives with his boyfriend. His family remained at home. While returning from the market in recent days, his brother was captured by Russian occupation forces and told he would be forcibly conscripted to defend the pro-Russian “Luhansk People’s Republic,” despite his artificial knee joint. Even though his brother may be fighting for the other side—against his will—Kravchuk said he would fight on.
On Friday morning, he texted The Daily Beast: “For now, we’re safe, but nobody knows what may happen in few hours.”
Valery Brown, who identifies as a lesbian, said she had also been training up to resist Putin’s invasion. Before the conflict began, she told The Daily Beast: “I am trying to do my best to be prepared for different outcomes.”
Twenty-four hours after the invasion began, she wrote back: “This is horrible.”
Not all LGBTQ Ukrainians are preparing to fight. Some are volunteering to help frontline soldiers and LGBTQ civilians. Viktor Pylypenko, head of the NGO Ukrainian LGBT Soldiers, said many LGBTQ military folks are already on the frontline, and LGBTQ civilians are helping to gather money, equipment, weapons, and medical aid for frontline soldiers.
The Ukrainian LGBTQ community is showing strength and fearlessness even when Russian-backed separatists have already started shelling, and the western world is bracing for any possible outcome. Many have nowhere to go—Ukrainians and the LGBTQ community say they will fight to save their country.