Ukrainian LGBTQ soldiers change hearts and minds. 2017
• As the conflict in Eastern Ukraine continues, Catherine Chapman and I decided to look closer at struggles of LGBTQ community in Ukraine. On of the results is this story about LGBTQ soldiers, changing the Ukrainian society with their service.
"The Ukrainian military is not known to be particularly welcoming to LGBTQ people, but it needed bodies in early 2014 to confront Russian forces that had entered Ukrainian territory on their way to annexing Crimea.
That Ukraine was woefully unprepared for battle was obvious in several ways: outdated equipment; approximately 130,000 poorly trained troops (compared with 845,000 experienced Russian soldiers); an organizational structure widely accused of corruption; and the brutal hazing of new recruits and volunteers.
Many of those military newcomers have been gay and transgender soldiers who ignored prejudice and harassment to defend their country against invasion."
Ukrainian soldiers train with the Canadian Armed Forces at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine on Oct. 26, 2017.
Beginning of the training at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine on Oct. 26, 2017.
Zhenya smokes during an interview in Kiev, Ukraine on Oct. 29, 2017.
Andriy Chumakov, left, and his long-term boyfriend, Artem Shevchenko look onto Maidan Square, in central Kiev, Ukraine on Aug. 8, 2017.
A Ukrainian soldier gets ready to train with Canadian Forces at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine on Oct. 26, 2017.
Soldiers stand in a final formation at the end of training at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine on Oct. 26, 2017.
Ukrainian LGBTQ Shelter. 2017
• As the conflict in Eastern Ukraine continues, Catherine Chapman and I decided to look closer at struggles of LGBTQ community in Ukraine. The result is this story about a Shelter, a new home in Kyiv for LGBTQ people who have no other place to go.
"In a four-bedroom apartment found among a row of typical Eastern bloc-styled buildings in one of Kiev’s sleeping districts, a group of strangers from around Ukraine is making a fresh start in a place they now consider home.
They call their newly acquired residence “The Shelter,” a safe space where they are free to be themselves — a mix of ages, backgrounds and genders congregating under one roof, because their sexual orientation left them with nowhere else to go.
Nik Litvinov, 22, moved into the Shelter in the beginning of 2017 for a couple of months, then again in May for another couple of months.
From mid-2016 until August 2017 the Shelter has become a new home for sixty-five people. Most of those living there during a visit in Augst 2017 were from the eastern areas of the country where fighting is still taking place.
Slavik Smirnov, 28, has lived in the Shelter since June 2017.
The LGBTQ Shelter in Kyiv is the first place where its residents get a feeling of belonging to a comminity. Some find a new home there, where they are accepted for who they are.
Slavik considers The Shelter a perfect place to start ones life over.
Some residents find their first real friends at the Shelter. They open up about their sexuality, relationships and struggles in the way they couldn't before. In the most cases their sexuality became the reason they have to leave their families.
Avis (on the right) is having a long-distance relationship, and talks with her girlfriend several times every day. She is looking forward to leaving for Novosibirsk (Russia) to finally move in with her partner and start a new life there. "I have never had any friends really; I was an outsider at school and at home. But I did not know it could get any worse until my mom found out I was gay. She has not been homophobic at all before, she even said one day that gay people should be able to adopt kids, because they are the ones who really want them. Then she found out about me, and everything changed. She kicked me out of my home, that is how I ended up here."
Igor works as a physician and always mentions his partner as a "wife", when talking to his colleagues. "They would never understand and I could lose my job. They would never say it's because I'm gay, but will find some other reason."
Most of the residents find it to be the first place they feel free and open about their sexuality.
Nik Litvinov, 22, moved into the Shelter in the beginning of 2017 for a couple of months, then again in May for another couple of months. He is optimistic about the future of the LGBTQ community in Ukraine. "It will take time, for sure. But the shift is happening already," says Nik, who is excited to move in with his boyfriend in Moscow (Russia) soon.
Slavik feels much more secure and safe since he came out as gay. Now he lives openly and is not afraid of violence or discrimination against him. "I feel more powerful now, since I'm not afraid of exposure anymore."