“A war within a war,” Zi Faámelu, a transgender woman living in Ukraine.
The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia has sparked a lot of uncertainty and fear throughout both countries and across the world. But, a much under-reported impact of the war is the toll it’s taking on those within the LGBTQ+ community.
While private same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults and gender-reassignment surgery are both legal in Ukraine, the country’s attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community are lagging far behind many other European countries. And, with Russia’s invasion, it is now feared that things might worsen.
Not only does Russia impose far stricter rules on LGBTQ+ people and provides no protection against hate crimes, but the incitement of the war also means many LGBTQ+ people are forced to flee to countries with anti-gay laws or are unable to flee at all due to their gender identity.
For example, in neighbouring Poland, same-sex couples cannot marry or form civil partnerships, and there are unofficial ‘LGBTQ-free zones’. In a study conducted in 2019, it was also found that as many as 25% of those living in Poland believe homosexuality should not be tolerated. However, many Ukrainians have chosen to cross the border into Poland face discrimination if it means saving their lives from being destroyed by war.
Furthermore, many transgender women who were assigned male at birth are unable to leave Ukraine due to the gender on their passports. Zi Faámelu, a 31-year-old transgender woman, cannot flee the war as her passport states she is male. Due to the current situation, all Ukrainian males of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, and are encouraged to become involved with the war effort.
While legislation introduced in 2017 lessened the process transgender people must go through to change their legal gender, the process still requires people to undergo outpatient psychiatric examination, which many feel is unnecessary and invasive.
Speaking to CBS News of the situation, Faámelu said, “I don’t want to go through that. I decided to keep my passport, keep male in my passport, and now I cannot leave this country.” She continued, “[it’s] a war within a war, truly,”
As the situation between Ukraine and Russia worsens, as do fears over the safety and rights of those in the LGBTQ+ community. But, despite the uncertainty, many Ukrainians have chosen to remain positive, just like Faámelu, “You don’t know if you’re going to be alive the next morning. So what are you going to do? I just prefer to dance in the kitchen, to be honest. Because if this is the last moment of my life, I just want to celebrate.”