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Ukrainian LGBTQ2S+ community hopes for safe escape: ‘Please, don’t leave us alone’

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As Russian forces continue their invasion on Ukraine, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community sleep in safe houses awaiting the right time to flee their homeland.

“There’s a huge sense of being together and helping each other – this little queer family feeling,” said Lenny Emson, executive director of Kyiv Pride.

In partnership with Gay Alliance Ukraine, Kyiv Pride, which started back in 2012, has opened up a shelter for members of the community to stay and eat before fleeing the country.

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“People stay for a few days to wait for a train or a bus to relocate further. It’s a real little family there, despite the fact that people are coming and going,” Emson, who uses she/he pronouns, said to Global News from Ukraine.

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The organization also provides medication to those in need, daily psychological support groups, and transportation to the border.

“The LGBTQ2S+ community is among the most vulnerable and the poorest part of the population,” said Emson. “People are losing their homes, losing their relatives. They run from bombs, they run from shelling,” s_he said.

Kyiv Pride is the largest pride organization in the country. Last year, 7,000 people marched through the centre of Ukraine’s capital during pride celebrations.

Since the invasion began, the organization has provided direct help to 250 people. However, even when the war ends, the fight won’t, Emson said.

Over the last few years, Ukraine has faced a spike in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, s_he said. This number is only anticipated to rise after the invasion is over.

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“We expect people to use these dark times to push homophobic and transphobic actions. When the war ends, our fight will not be finished,” s_he said.

According to a report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, there were 80 hate crimes against the community in 2020. In 27 per cent of cases, police called to the scene did nothing and in 38 per cent they did not record the crime or start an investigation, the report says.

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People around the world have been donating to Kyiv Pride, or writing to them, offering to host a LGBTQ2S+ Ukrainian refugee in their homes.

“The LGBTQ2S+ community exists beyond borders and that’s what we see. Every dollar we receive is some food for a LGBTQ2S+ community member and this is what is really needed right now,” said Emson. “All the people that received help from Kyiv Pride, they received help from the world community.”

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Like Kyiv Pride, Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights organization established in 2008, has opened up two shelters since the war began — one near the Polish border and the other near the Romanian border.

Photo of supplies at a a shelter for Ukrainian LGBTQ2S+ community members and women in Ukraine. Provided by Olena Shevchenko

Not only are the shelters a place to go for those needing a place to stay, eat, or receive medicine, legal support is also offered, Olena Shevchenko, chairperson for the organization, told Global News from Ukraine.

The legal team has been helping transgender people safely flee the country, Shevchenko said. As the process to change a person’s gender on documents like a passport can be difficult, some members of the community may have documentation that does not align with who they are.

These people have faced issues at the border since the invasion, Shechenko explained. Trans-women with male identifying documentation must stay and fight in the war while trans-men with female identifying documentation must go through a long process to get a “white ticket” exempting them from joining the military, she said.

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“We are working case by case, trying to transfer them to the border,” she said, noting the organization aided in getting one trans woman and her partner across the Polish border Wednesday.

Three more trans-women are currently waiting at the shelter to flee along with nearly ten other trans-men.

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In Odesa and Mykolaiv, Ukraine’s oldest LGBTQ2S+ organization, LGBTQ Association LIGA, has also put together two shelters for the community during the war.

“Now that war has come to our house, we are facing it head on,” a spokesperson for the organization told Global News.

“Some LGBTQ2S+ people have joined the armed forces or the territorial defence. This is not surprising because the fear of death is less important to us than losing our country.”

Ukraine’s LGBTQ2S+ military organization, whose goals include inclusive army regulations for the community, has compiled a list of open military members, including Iryna Bobyk, who’s been documenting online since the war began.

“On the second night after the attack, I dreamed of a poor father,” she wrote on March 2 before speaking about a dream she’s had since the invasion.

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To support the LGBTQ2S+ community in Ukraine, organization heads including Emson encourage the world to “keep pushing.”

“Keep going to rallies for Ukraine. The war is not over. Russians are still shelling our cities. Please do not leave us alone,” s_he said.

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