“I do not want to leave Ukraine”

This is the story of Manila Boss, a drag queen from Ukraine. The 28-year-old tells how she experienced the outbreak of war. Manila shares her moving journey, the moments of fear, the will to survive and the solidarity that helped her not to lose hope in the midst of the chaos. Our columnist Iryna Hanenkova met Manila and wrote down her story.

How did I get to know the war? Under the duvet. I had my premonitions about a week before the outbreak, but in the 21st century a major war seemed a long way off. I sat at home and thought that such things no longer happen today. But fate had other plans for us.

My boyfriend is a soldier and on the evening of 23 February he told me to be careful at night or something might happen to me. When my mother called at six in the morning on 24 February, I quickly realised what he had meant: “Son, the war has started. Get up, pack some documents and be ready.” My mum didn’t know what to tell me because we live in different cities.

I put the phone down and while I was still sitting on the bed, I heard the first violent explosions. The chaos began. I didn’t know what to do, where to go or where to hide. Fear overwhelmed me and I felt helpless.

Escape from the missiles

At that moment, I received a call from a friend. He told me to come to his flat, that we had to stay together. Without hesitation, I grabbed my documents and some clothes, hailed a taxi and set off. The explosions in the distance accompanied me; I didn’t know if I would arrive safely.

Surprisingly, the taxi came quickly, I drove to my friends’ house under the explosions and didn’t know if I would get there…

I lived in his shared flat for the first three weeks. Every time there was an air raid, we ran and took cover, often in the grounds of a nightclub where I used to perform. The club was underground and seemed relatively safe.

Then, when the situation in the country became clearer, I returned home alone. I found myself in a new life. The club where I had performed had closed its doors – of course.

Hope in the midst of chaos

Thank God I had and still have another job that has kept me afloat. I work for the youth organisation Partner. Our target group are LGBTIQ*.

Before the war, we carried out tests for STIs and distributed contraceptives. After the war began, we started helping internally displaced people who had fled from the nearby cities of Kherson and Mykolayiv.

We provided them with food and humanitarian aid, and we started to offer free hormone replacement therapy for trans* people. We are still doing that today…

Ukraine will triumph

I didn’t perform on stage in front of an audience for a year and a half. I didn’t know if I would ever perform again. I didn’t know if anyone needed that now. But – wonder of wonders! – recently the director of the club where I used to perform on stage called me and said: Manila, we’re working again!

From the first days of the war, I was on the territory of my country!!! And I didn’t and don’t want to leave there! I am at home!!! In Ukraine!

As I write these lines, the war continues unabated. But I firmly believe that Ukraine will win. I am proud of our Ukrainian armed forces and of our people. Everything will be fine, because in the end Ukraine will triumph.

This is how you can donate


INDIVIDUAL HELP Munich Kyiv Queer has its own fundraising campaign via https://www.paypal.me/ConradBreyer to support queer people in Ukraine who are in need or on the run. Why? Because not all LGBTIQ* are organised in the local LGBTIQ*-groups. This help is direct, fast and free of charge if you choose the option “For friends and family” on PayPal. If you don’t have PayPal, you can alternatively send money to the private account of Conrad Breyer, speaker of Munich Kyiv Queer, IBAN: DE427015000021121454.

All requests from the community are meticulously checked in cooperation with our partner organisations in Ukraine. If they can help themselves, they take over. If the demands for help exceed their (financial and/or material) possibilities, we will step in.

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

Questions? www.MunichKyivQueer.org/donations

Dmitry is a drag queen. In his blog post, the young Ukrainian describes how he experienced the outbreak of war and where Russia’s attack ultimately led him. He had to leave his home town, his family fled and he constantly had to find new jobs. The only ray of hope: Love! Dmitry recently met someone. Our columnist Iryna Hanenkova has written down his story for us.

It’s 24 February 2022, between 7:30 and 7:35 in the morning, something like that. The phone rings – it’s my grandmother from Zaporizhia calling. I’m living in Kharkiv at the time.

  • Hello, Dima, how are you in Kharkiv?
  • What do you mean?
  • Is it loud? Do they bomb?
  • What are you talking of? I need to get ready for work. What do they bomb?
  • The war has started.
  • I’ll call you back.

The war has begun. These words come as a shock. I call up the news and read what’s going on. The war has indeed begun. I jump out of bed, get dressed, wake my flatmate and tell him to pack his things. As a precaution.

I would spend the next week in Kharkiv, for the very last time.

We pack everything we need, documents, food. Luckily, we had bought enough for home a few days earlier. So wise! In the late afternoon, a friend who lives alone comes to visit. I didn’t want to leave him alone with all this. We sleep in the same bed for a week – with the window open so that we can hear what’s going on outside. We’re not hungry, we don’t eat. We even forget to shower. We’re afraid of it.

We go out for the first time on 28 February because we’ve run out of cigarettes and have started smoking again because we’re so nervous. It’s the fourth day of the war. We look around the neighbourhood. There are queues everywhere. You cannot get cigarettes around; the shops seem to be closed. At the end of the street we finally find a shop that’s open.

The Russians indiscriminately bombard the centre

It’s cold outside, the sky is overcast, we can’t see a thing. We queue for two, two and a half hours. When there are left only two people in front of us, we hear aeroplanes approaching and explosions. I’ve never been more scared in my life. The planes are bombing the city centre. Everyone runs wherever they can because you can’t see the planes behind the clouds. It’s very frightening. I’ll probably never forget that feeling.

Kharkiw in December 2022. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

I hate the bastards who sit in these aeroplanes. The scum who built the rocket that’s flying towards me right now. It’s only 10 to 20 metres away. I can see it. That day it hits a group of people queuing at a pet shop nearby. One woman’s legs are shredded; she later dies in a hospital as a result of her injuries.

We give up to search for cigarettes and go home. The street is littered with “blind” rockets.

I fall asleep on the cold floor

In the evening again. They bomb the centre of Kharkiv with planes. The city centre, where normal people live. That evening I fall asleep in the corridor on the cold floor because I’m so exhausted.

I hardly get sleep in the days that follow. The shelling usually lasts until ten or eleven at night, and then it starts again at around six or seven in the morning. My two boys fall asleep quicker than I do because I always listen to potential noises.

I soon realise that I will lose my mind if I stay here. On 2 March, I decide to leave the city I’ve lived in for two years.

In peacetime, it takes me ten minutes and between 60 and 70 hryvnia to get to the station. Now a taxi costs between 3000 and 5000 hryvnia. I don’t have that much money. A boy and his father agree to give me a lift for 1000 hryvnia. They pick me up near my house. I’m carrying a suitcase that should last me another six months. We drive through an empty, destroyed city with Russian aeroplanes circling overhead.

The train station is full of people

I am extremely grateful to these people for getting me out of here. My friends from Dnipro persuaded me to join them in the city. And so I’m waiting for the evacuation train to Dnipro – for a whole day.

The station is overcrowded with people. There are two trains with women and children on board. The station staff and volunteers are handing out milk, water and biscuits. I don’t even have any water with me, which I will regret. My brain is trying to understand what is happening around me. It’s absurd, it’s madness; it can’t be. But it is reality.

Finally, my parents!

The train to Dnipro consists of three carriages. Only three carriages for the mass of people here. You could also say: “Like a herring in a jar”. So we are crammed into the train. We hear explosions nearby. We are all afraid that this carriage could become our coffin. When the train leaves, I breathe, I am relieved. The nightmare here is over. But the uncertainty and the view out of the window don’t make it any easier. I’m insanely thirsty and there’s no water. I spend the next six hours travelling to Dnipro, half unconscious.

I stay with my friends in Dnipro for a fortnight. Then I can finally go to Zaporizhia to see my parents. I’m staying until the beginning of April.

Escape to Kyiv

Sitting at home with nothing to do. That’s the worst! I leave Zaporizhia on 6 April and drive to the capital.

I’ve been living in Kyiv for a year and a half now. I’ve already changed jobs five times and I’m currently training to become a beauty consultant. I occasionally work as a drag queen, so it comes naturally.

In January, I helped organise a big Harry Potter performance, because I’ve always worked a lot with children. I understand that they need a fairy tale now – we all do, actually.

I had my own club project in Zaporizhia for six years. We’ve only been able to organise two parties there since the start of the war. Zaporizhia is a frontline city. It was so nice to finally have guests again.

Everything is so different now

The war changed a lot of things. It took away the family I used to see so often. My mother and sister now live in England, my father stayed in Zaporizhia with my grandmother. It’s only now that I realise how important my family has always been in my life.

The war also took my favourite city away from me. It took me a year to recover from moving. I miss my thriving, beautiful and beloved Kharkiv.

At least I’ve finally met someone I love. I was alone for six years and somehow it happened that now, four months later, it’s no longer like that. That’s probably the only thing I’m happy about.

Life goes on

I’m making plans and hope that it will all be over soon and we can all be together again. I dream of doing another cool (drag) production. But I don’t feel able to write the concept for it. Maybe one day I will, but I’m not sure.

This is how you can donate


INDIVIDUAL HELP Munich Kyiv Queer has its own fundraising campaign via https://www.paypal.me/ConradBreyer to support queer people in Ukraine who are in need or on the run. Why? Because not all LGBTIQ* are organised in the local LGBTIQ*-groups. This help is direct, fast and free of charge if you choose the option “For friends and family” on PayPal. If you don’t have PayPal, you can alternatively send money to the private account of Conrad Breyer, speaker of Munich Kyiv Queer, IBAN: DE427015000021121454.

All requests from the community are meticulously checked in cooperation with our partner organisations in Ukraine. If they can help themselves, they take over. If the demands for help exceed their (financial and/or material) possibilities, we will step in.

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

Questions? www.MunichKyivQueer.org/donations