"I want to run anywhere from this nightmare": A look into LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine trudges on, many activists fear that Vladimir Putin’s administration will reverse laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community. But stringent martial laws and scarce HIV resources have left many in peril.

Silhouette of person flying Ukranian flag with coat of arms

On February 24, Putin not only announced a full-scale invasion but a return to “traditional values” as part of their national security strategy. With Russia’s rumoured “kill list” targeting all political opposition and vulnerable populations, as well as labelling feminist and LGBTQ+ movements as “extremist propaganda,” their regressive policies could endanger thousands in Ukraine.

“I know many LGBTQ+ people from Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan who moved to Ukraine in recent years because of discrimination in their home countries,” Yura Dvizhon, co-founder of Ukraine Pride said to Forbes.

Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine legalised homosexuality and same-sex marriage, then added anti-discrimination protections in 2015. Although public opinion toward LGBTQ+ people is low, Ukraine remains a place of refuge for many Eastern European immigrants for its governmental freedom.

Putin’s crackdown on ‘western values’ is not new. After Russia seized Crimea in 2014, Pride parades were met with counterdemonstrations, and hate crimes toward LGBTQ+ people increased quickly.

Maksym Eristavi, a Ukrainian gay rights activist and journalist, expressed that Putin’s impact on Crimea could mean the same for the community in Ukraine.

“It just breaks my heart that we had eight years of fantastic success bringing Ukraine even further but now this is being sabotaged,” said Eristavi in an interview with The New York Times.

Not only are LGBTQ+ individuals at risk under Russia’s draconian anti-gay policing, but they also face losing access to vital healthcare resources. As a result of the bombings in Kyiv, many medical centres, namely HIV clinics, have been shuttered. While doctors have limited their services to the public, medical supplies and antiretroviral drug distributions have also been cut short.

“Whatever the outcome from a military and political perspective, this crisis will shake health and will generate a major health crisis across the region,” said Michel Kazatchkine, former director of The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in an interview with Reuters.

Health experts and advocates are concerned that the war obstructing proper treatment could foster drug-resistant HIV strains, as well as undoing therapies that prevent viral transmission. Kazatchkine adds that despite that international NGOs are working to send new supplies, it would be challenging “to dispatch these medicines in various parts of Ukraine.”

Transgender and non-binary people face a different war. The drafting rule in Ukraine states that men between 18 to 60 are required to stay and fight, trapping many people who are still registered as such.

While it is legal to change one’s gender on official documents, non-binary and Trans people have reported the process to be painstaking— some have had to stay in mental institutions and go through rounds of tests to confirm their gender.

“This is all wrong. All civilians want to run away from the nightmares of war, not only biological females,” Nick, a non-binary resident in Ukraine said to Reuters. “I want to run anywhere from this nightmare and start my life from zero.”

Others have reported that they were mocked and shouted at by Ukrainian border patrol officers for being non-binary or Trans. Even those who had valid certificates and updated documents were forced to go through invasive body searches.

“There were three officers in the room. They told us to take off our jackets. They checked our hands, arms, checked my neck to see if I had an Adam’s apple,” said Alice, a Ukrainian Transwoman, to The Guardian. “They touched my breasts. After examining us, border guards told us we were men. We tried to explain our situation but they didn’t care.”

Behind the borders and on the streets of Kyiv, Trans and non-binary people still face harassment from guards, who constantly profile them on the street for suspicious activity.

Amidst the endless violence and destruction comes a sliver of hope. NGOs across the US and Europe have been working tirelessly to give LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine HIV and hormone replacement medications. The Global Fund put $15 million into HIV prevention by providing testing and treatment for the virus. Thousands of 90-day antiretroviral supplies have been shipped to Poland to be transported to clinics in Kyiv and neighbouring towns.

On April 5, the World Health Organisation announced that it would aid in sending the country’s patients antiretroviral drugs for the next 12 months. A donation of the antiretroviral medication Dolutegravir would soon be available for infants living with HIV. The first batch, comprising 209,000 packs of TLD ( a generic HIV drug), is confirmed to be distributed across HIV clinics in Ukraine.

Rain Dove, an actor, model, and activist, has also directly assisted Trans people in Ukraine in evacuating “red zones” and escaping the country. They have opened an additional fundraiser to provide necessities for individuals in need.

“We’ve had Trans people get rejected at some borders, but everyone we’ve supported has eventually got out,” Dove said.

If you would like to show support, below are a few organisations providing relief to LGBTQ+ Ukrainian people :

Kyiv Pride
Forbidden Colours
LGBTI Human Rights Nash Mir Centre
Gender Z
Alliance Global


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