“I’ll stay with you till the end”
Emin is originally from Azerbaijan. Years ago he came to Ukraine for work. After a difficult coming out, he found the love of his life here, Vlad. And he has met people who accept him for who he is. Emin would never flee the country – although he could. A portrait by Evgen Lesnoy.
Anyone who believes that only Ukrainians live in Ukraine is mistaken. Contrary to what the Russian propaganda would have us believe, there is no forced Ukrainisation going on in this country. Even in the second year of the full scale war, many people in the Eastern and Southern parts of the nation still speak Russian as a matter of fact.
There are many people living in Ukraine who came here for work. They were born in countries of the former Soviet Union. And although many of them are not Ukrainian citizens, Ukraine is their homeland. Despite the war, many of them have stayed, like Emin.
All his relatives know him as Emin. He is 42 years old and a citizen of Azerbaijan. However, Emin has been living in Ukraine for over 15 years now, in Kyiv, to be precise. He stays in the outskirts of the capital.
Emin came out as a gay man in Ukraine. Before that, in his old home country, also in Moscow, where he lived a long time ago, he tried again and again to suppress his homosexuality. But you can’t live against your nature.
Vald and Emin got to know each other in a hair salon
In Ukraine, Emin found the love of his life. He met Vladik when he came to cut his hair in Emin’s salon. Emin is a hairdresser, although he used to be a cook once.
His experience in the kitchen came in handy during the first months of the war. But more on that in a moment.
They were all waiting for the war. No one wanted to believe that it was really coming, but they were all waiting for it. Emin and Vlad, like many others, had packed their bags; they were standing in the hallway.
But neither Vlad nor Emin made use of them. From the very first day, when the Russian tanks rolled towards Kyiv, only 15 kilometres away, the gay couple decided: This is our home. This is where we want to be.
Emin suddenly started baking pita bread, as he had learned from his mother
In those days, the house where they live organised its own territorial defence. They didn’t have weapons, of course, but it was important to keep out looters and saboteurs. Vlad communicated constantly with various foreign media, as he is fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and English, reporting what was going on in Kyiv: That the Ukrainian capital was standing solid and did not let in the enemy.
Emin took a shovel and fortified the complex with his neighbours. And when the shops around closed, he started baking bread. Volunteers brought flour and they started working the dough and made pita bread, like Emin’s mother used to in Azerbaijan.
Back in February 2022, when the Russian troops were outside Kyiv’s walls, they often asked Emin: Why don’t you leave? You’re not a Ukrainian citizen and you’re not liable for military service. Why do you stay here?
Emin had only one answer for this: “Vladik lives here, he is my love, my husband. How can I leave him? How can I leave you? After all, you have taken us all in. I have not heard a single homophobic word about us. I am not a Ukrainian citizen, but I am Ukrainian. A Ukrainian from Azerbaijan. I will stay with you until the end.”
In Ukraine, Emin has found a new family that he does not want to leave
More than a year has passed now and the war has moved away from Kyiv. In the summer, Emin took time to go home and visited his mother in Azerbaijan. And of course, he came back. Because, here in Ukraine, Emin has everything he needs to live: a home and people who accept him as he is.
This is how you can help
INDIVIDUAL HELP Munich Kyiv Queer has its own fundraising campaign via www.paypal.me/ConradBreyer to support people in Ukraine who need help and are not organised in the local LGBTIQ*-groups. We can help fast, directly and unbureaucratically.
HELP FOR LGBTIQ* ORGANISATIONS To support LGBTIQ* in Ukraine we have helped set up the Alliance Queer Emergency Aid Ukraine, in which around 40 German LGBTIQ* Human Rights organisations are involved. All these groups have access to very different Human Rights organisations in Ukraine and use funds for urgently needed care or evacuation of queer people. Every donation helps and is used 100 percent to benefit queer people in Ukraine. Donate here