We are together, we will break through! Chronicle from Zhytomyr. Part II

13.04.2022 | cb — No comments

The terrible war in Ukraine has been going on for a month and a half now, and millions of people have already been evacuated abroad. Not everyone can escape the war – only women, children and the elderly.

And even among refugees, the most vulnerable group are members of the LGBTIQ* community – at least as long as they stay in Ukraine. Indeed, as we learn from the following stories, even shelters in relatively “safer” regions of Ukraine do not guarantee LGBTIQ* people security and acceptance, because, first of all, Russian missiles reach all corners of the country, and second, homophobic sentiments are still prevalent in almost every city, town and village.

No doubt, the most severe challenges are faced by the residents of territories temporarily occupied by Russian troops, so their attempts to leave are extremely risky. But, unfortunately, it is even more dangerous to stay there, so our people go in spite of everything.

Further obstacles, regarding leaving Ukraine: It takes precious time and requires fast, sometimes unconventional solutions – because people often lack the money and documents they need. They obviously need help.

Since the beginning of the war, our NGO “You are not alone”with the help of Munich Kyiv Queer and the German Alliance “Queer Emergency Aid Ukraine” has been helping dozens and hundreds of members of the LGBTIQ* community and their families to solve all the problems. As we promised, here are a few more stories with an happy ending.

Ira and Lilya, a Lesbian couple, and Ira’s son Vlad, 11 years old, Ternopil

The first words I heard were ‘Sasha, help!’. Once the war broke out, Ira called me and said that Ternopil had also been hit by missiles, so the whole family decided to go to Lila’s mother in Transcarpathia.

The girls lived there for about three weeks, and unfortunately they had to face the rejection of their relationship by Lily’s relatives. All the time, Lily’s mother insulted Ira and her son. She was extremely homophobic and did not accept the girls as a family.

As soon as the bombing of Lviv’ outskirts began, the girls became very frightened again and decided to flee Ukraine. We contacted them and discussed their journey plan in detail. Ira and Lily had nothing at all but a child in their arms – the girls lost their jobs, there was no money.

Thanks to the help of German LGBTIQ*-organizations, in particular Munich Kyiv Queer, we paid in full for the trip, including urgent repairs to the car that broke down on the eve of the departure, petrol, food, two nights. The girls are now safe near Munich.

Angelina, 38, a lesbian, Mariupol

“I will never be able to breathe normally and calmly in my life” – that were the words I heard during our two-minute conversation. Angelina stayed in a bomb shelter for about two weeks. She still can’t find her beloved girlfriend and mother.

When Angelina decided to go to a store, they started bombing her area, and she fled to a shelter, where she spent almost two weeks. Her apartment burned down and she still can’t find her relatives.

Angelina miraculously broke through to Dnipro, she was lucky to evacuate, for two days she slept almost standing. Upon arrival in Dnipro, Angelina contacted our organization in search of a shelter, food and medicine.

We helped Angelina to rent a house for a week, provided financial assistance for food, medicine and clothes. Since Angelina has relatives in Finland, she decided to go there. We paid in full for her move, and the woman is now completely safe.

Bogdan, 17, gay, Zhytomyr region

This is the story of Bogdan (name changed). Bogdan was about to graduate from the school in his native village, thought about final exams, dreamed of entering high school in Kyiv to become a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature.

The war radically changed these plans – his village was practically on the front line, 40 km from Makariv, where fierce battles were fought.

In the village, it’s never been easy with work, but when the war started, the area became practically unemployed, hence Bogdan decided to leave Ukraine to help his family.

It was a difficult decision – after all, his mother does not know about the guy’s homosexual orientation, and he has not yet decided to come out. Bogdan tried to take his family out as well, but his mother, having two small children in her arms (Bogdan’s step-brother and step-sister), did not want to leave her husband and stayed in the village.

Bogdan contacted the LGBTIQ* organization You Are Not Alone and asked for help. With money from Munich Kyiv Queer, Bogdan bought food for the family, and was also able to get from Zhytomyr region to Lviv, where, with the assistance of Tymur Levchuk and the organization “Tochka Opory”, he lived for two days in a shelter for LGBTIQ*, and then, with the support of an Italian LGBTIQ* organization, left for Milan.

For a guy who has never been outside of Kyiv, driving thousands of kilometers is a lot of stress, but he knows why he is doing it and what is the ultimate goal. We keep in touch with Bogdan. We hope we will soon be able to tell new optimistic facts about his life in Italy.

Oleksandr, 29 years old, a gay man, Malinsky district, Zhytomyr region

All I want is silence. These were the first words I heard on the phone when Alexander called.

He lived and worked in Kyiv, had a permanent partner, a job he loved, attended LGBTIQ* clubs, bought fashionable clothes and, like many in Ukraine, did not fully believe in war.

February 24th changed his life forever – in order not to be blocked in Kyiv, Alexander in the first days of the war went to relatives in the north of Zhytomyr region.

But then the real hell began – the Malinsky district was constantly fired. Explosions that thundered all night began to rumble in Alexander’s head during the day as well. He could no longer distinguish the real explosions from what it seemed to him, and believed he was going crazy.

Alexander contacted the LGBTIQ* organization “You are not alone” and found out he could get money for evacuation. With money from Munich Kyiv Queer, the guy went to the Ternopil region, where it is still quiet and not so scary. Alexander did not want to evacuate to Zhytomyr, in his opinion, this is very close to the place of shelling in Malinsky district.

Now the guy is coming to his senses, looking for a job and building a life from scratch in a new place. We wish him good luck..

Leonid, gay, Zhytomyr

The war found Leonid in Chervone, his native village in the Zhytomyr region.

Prior to that, he lived in Kyiv for a long time, had a boyfriend, painted pictures, held several personal exhibitions. But the anxious premonition of the pre-war winter of 2022 did not leave Leo: He was depressed, missed inspiration for painting, his relationship with his boyfriend cracked. He packed up and left.

In the first days of war, he experienced horror, confusion, fear and pain. Chervone was not bombed, but warplanes were constantly flying over the village, it was impossible to sleep, the nerves were shattered. And then inspiration came as a rescue – Leonid could not eat or sleep. Like a possessed man he painted around the clock, that helped him to express on canvas what had accumulated inside.

Not a good time for paintings

We met Leonid in Zhytomyr on April 7, on the 42nd day of the war. We didn’t even recognize him right away – unshaved, with red eyes. He was running out of food supplies, could not find work in the village. No one is buying paintings now, it’s not a good time for paintings.

He tried to join the army, but was not fit for service for health reasons. We talked, bought some food, Leo smiled and for the first time spoke about plans for the future. “You know, Max, I want to go to Europe, I want to paint and talk about the war through art. It seems to me that Europeans still do not fully understand what sort of evil we are facing here. I want to sell paintings, and transfer money to the Ukrainian army, because only thanks to the Ukrainian military, my mother and I are still alive … “

These dreams have yet to come true, but Leonid has already taken the first step – one of his large paintings has been donated to a charity auction of Zhytomyr artists, which will be held in Bratislava. All proceeds from it will go to the purchase of bulletproof vests, walkie-talkies and thermal imagers for the Ukrainian military. You can see the works of Leonid on instagram @leonid7974

Do whatever it takes!

We all sincerely hope that this horror that broke out in our lives on February 24 will end as soon as possible. And while we’re at it, no matter what happens, we must do whatever it takes to ensure peace, security and a normal life.

A life in which everyone will have a place, regardless of ideology, skin color, sexual orientation and gender identity. After all, it is freedom and democracy that our soldiers are fighting for – and good will surely win!

written by members of “You are not alone!

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