Zosya / Anton Shebetko, Ukraine
“I am 20 years old and I am a non-binary person. I never had a coming out; I always talked openly with my parents that I like boys and girls. When I was 10 years old, my parents showed me the movie “Birdcage”. I didn’t really understand who gays were, but they told me. Then I was told at school that you can’t say the word “gay” because it’s bad. And it came as a shock to me that there is homophobia in the world.
Personally, homophobia has never affected me; the only thing that sometimes bothers me is people asking why I talk about myself as a man. It seems to me that this is neither transphobia nor homophobia, but just idiocy – some people just can’t understand.
Ukraine has a very good queer life. I went to vogue balls, to queer parties and went to Pride with my dad. Back in 2018, I met a lot of allies there – I was very inspired, I saw that society in general does not mind. Now Prides are happening more and more. I really like being in a queer environment, because that’s where I feel free. This is still a more or less marginalized topic in Ukraine and the queers are very supportive of each other. I was completely satisfied with my life in Ukraine.
It seems to me that all right-wing radicals in Ukraine are an even more marginalized topic. Most of society is inert and accustomed to the status quo. They don’t want to beat gays – they don’t care. It always seemed to me that this was all a confrontation between an independent, young Ukraine and a kind of Soviet background and Russian influence. If you look at what most Ukrainian right-wing radicals are promoting, their ideas and rhetoric coincide with what Russia is promoting.
About war: On the first day of the war, I woke up quite late, saw a bunch of messages from friends who asked how I was. I even responded to someone that everything was OK; I did not understand what was going on. Then I went into the living room and my parents said, “The war has begun.” Somehow I wasn’t even surprised. I’ve been nervous for a couple of weeks and I’ve been waiting for it to start. In the first days, there were occasional sounds, mostly air defense, it seems, but it was not scary. There was some wild rage and euphoria, because it seemed that we would win right now. A bunch of projects came out right away to raise money and I participated in the information war, all of which helped to feel more than just a passive observer.
The hardest part was when all connection shut down.. We lived in the Makariv community of the Bucha district. We had no electricity, mobile phones, water, or food in our village for about a week and a half. There was a generator, but the diesel ran out. It was scary, because we live on the edge of the village and if Russians come, we will be the first ones affected. There was constant shelling from five in the morning until midnight. Shells and rocket wreckage periodically fell near us. It was very exhausting, emotionally.
There were no green corridors and that was one of the reasons why we didn’t want to go. We met doctors in our village who refused to let us go. Two women were brought to them, one dead and the other severely wounded, with no arms or legs. They were driving through our village and were fired upon by Russian troops.
Then we learned from acquaintances that people are leaving the villages, wrapping cars in white sheets, writing “children” on the windows. But periodically columns of cars come under fire. We have to go through Russian checkpoints – they can potentially kill there, and if they don’t kill, they will take away all valuables.
When we left, we realized that this would probably be the last column, because there was almost no one left in the village. It was the last chance, and we didn’t know if we would survive when we left. We took a woman with five children with us; she had a 5-day-old baby with her, and she gave birth to him under fire. My father and I almost cried when we saw the Ukrainian checkpoint, it was great happiness. We were just lucky. It was very scary – cars all around were burned to the ground, crushed by tanks. The column that came before us was fired upon, the column that followed was also fired upon, and there were casualties.
My parents are now in Berdychiv, with our dogs. They came to the apartment of relatives who no longer live there. Of course, I’m very worried, but it’s safe there. They started working as soon as they settled there and it seems to calm them.
We are now fighting with Russia for civilization. When they say that there are nationalists or fascists somewhere in Ukraine, that someone once contacted the swastika, I am always surprised – such people are everywhere.
Society has become united; now everyone stands up against Russia. Now many queer people have joined the army and territorial defense. Maybe, of course, disputes will start after the victory, but I want to believe that after the war, everyone will be united to rebuild the country.”