Gay Ukrainian soldiers believe war with Russia is changing attitudes at home

As Estonia becomes the first former part of the Soviet Union to legalise same-sex marriage there are hopes Ukraine could be next

When Borys matched with Valentin on Tinder, he knew their first date would be unusual.

It was just a few weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the pair met at a coffee point in Kyiv where the 27-year-old had been stationed after joining the army when the war began.

“I really liked him but the situation was strange because it was the beginning of the war. I never imagined war could look like that – meeting a guy from Tinder in a coffee shop.”

This week, Estonia became the first former part of the Soviet Union to legalise same-sex marriage. Kaja Kallas, the prime minister, said it was a decision that “gives something important to many”.

Ukraine’s first openly gay soldiers are hopeful that Ukraine will be next, and recognise the wartime contribution of its LGBT soldiers.

The number of openly LGBT soldiers fighting for Ukraine, coupled with a perception of homophobia as a “traditional Russian value”, has led to a greater acceptance of same-sex relationships in Ukrainian society, he said.

A draft civil union law that would legalise same-sex partnerships has been brought before Ukraine’s parliament, but the war has brought the issues to the fore again.

Alina Sarnatska, a 36-year-old soldier fighting in the Donbas, said her girlfriend would not be able to find out what had happened to her if she were killed or wounded in action.

“If I died in the war,” she told The Sunday Telegraph, her partner would not be able to “get any information about me because she’s not my wife”.

Changing the law would also allow same-sex couples to make medical decisions, bury their loved ones in accordance with their wishes and receive support from the state.

She said current laws mean her partner is “sitting at home alone, just waiting, knowing that I am in a battalion in the Donbas. It’s terrible. It’s so terrible.”

Recognising these partnerships is “more important than ever before”, said Borys. “We are fighting for freedom, for democratic values, for European values.”

There are no exact figures for how many LGBT soldiers are serving in the Ukrainian armed forces but LGBT Military, an Instagram account that posts pictures of gay and lesbian soldiers, estimates it could be between two to seven per cent of the whole armed forces.

For Alina, the war has accelerated a positive change in Ukrainian attitudes towards openly gay and lesbian soldiers.

“When you are evacuating someone as a medic and you’re gay people don’t ask you to stop and wait for another medic,” she said. “Since the war began it’s not been important who is gay or who is lesbian – you want to be alive.”

“Soldiers are family,” she adds. “You can’t be in a family with other people and not tell them about your partner or yourself.”

by Maighna Nanu
Source – The Telegraph