The Corona crisis sends queer people back to the closet. The LGBTIQ community loses its safe spaces. In the neighbouring countries Poland and Russia consolidate homo- and transphobic moods, initiatives and even laws. Inside Ukraine farright groups become stronger and more brutal. Therefore here queer people from Ukraine present their biographies, their subjective view on current tendencies and one meaningful public place. They speak for themselves.


Gay love in Kyiv: Denis Kutsekon & Alexandr Nikulin

Denis and Sasha in November 2020 at the Metro station Poznyaki in Kyiv, where they first met three years ago. Credit: Private




D: We live together in Kyiv. For the first time we met at the metro station Poznyaki to walk to the lake.

A: We have been together for three years. But we moved in together later, he convinced me. I am 28 now and work as a chemist.

D: I’m 38 and work as a security guard, caretaker, activist. I am volunteering as a personal assistant to a boy with autism, in a Canadian project tried out in Ukraine. Sasha wants me to study social work. But for now we are learning sign language.

D: I have been struggling with myself since childhood. I even went to church, tried to free myself with prayers. Sasha is not my first partner, but only when we met did I accept myself. I also had relationships with women. But the sex was torturous for me. First I talked about it with my mother. Only eight years ago, when I was 30 years old and long ago moved from the Kherson region to Kyiv. When I was diagnosed with HIV, I called her. It was a double blow for her. We both cried. Now she just keeps asking me: “Did you take your pills?”

A: On a recent visit to Denis’ family for a baptism we were asked not to say anything about our relationship. I was “a friend” of Denis’. I felt like the fifth wheel on the wagon. But I myself have not yet told my parents that I am gay. I come from the Donetsk region. Just outside our town the war zone begins. But my friends all know. At work too.

D: We are quite lucky! Many must hide. But not us.

A: On normal days nobody cares. When we go shopping, we act like an old married couple. The first year we even held hands and kissed on the street.

D: People are not used to that. But I said goodbye, kissed him on the mouth and off I went. But often we don’t do that.

A: We also keep to a certain limit. Certainly unconsciously.

D: Sometimes I would like to be freer.

A: In five to seven years, I would like to have children.

D: A single person who has a stable income can adopt a child. The partner could then take care of the same child. That works for us.

A: If we at least had a registered partnership, many things would be easier.


Trans*activism in Kharkiv: Ruslan Niyazov

Ruslan in November 2020 at the main square of Kharkiv, where a few years ago he reacted in rage: I’m not a girl at all! Credit: Private


Since childhood I forbade myself to think about why I wasn’t born a boy. These thoughts only led to despair. I was sure that nothing could be done about this fact and it was dangerous to talk about my feelings. But one situation – in 2014 –was a landmark. Military vehicles were prepared for the annual City Day Parade. Young people climbed onto an APC. But I needed to get there more than anybody else! A guard shouted at me: “Girl, where are you going?” I shouted back: “Not a girl at all!” Only later I realized that I was screaming about it in the square. So, it’s time to admit it’s true.

As long as you live in the wrong gender, you make a psychological pact with yourself: hiding a “package” with feelings and desires. I have been interested in psychology for many years trying to find answers and help myself. Only after years of unpacking these subconscious feelings I understood: That’s not crazy, everything can be normal with me. No one can forbid me anything but myself. Then I wanted people to see me from the inside too. For trans*people one understanding person already reduces psychological pressure by 50 percent.

After I came out, most contacts broke off. I was bullied at work, nine full months of hell. It’s a bad feeling when close people look at you, then as if dust covers their eyes, and they can no longer recognize you. One buddy supported me, gave me a place in his garage. His mother is a nurse and wasn’t shocked but went looking for information. After I quit my job they fed me for a while and saved me when I was sick. Then I found a job in a call centre and today I am a good salesman.

My closest people are my partner, my friends, my cats. I feel free. Compared to 2016, a lot has improved. In the past, trans*people were invisible even within the LGBT community. But since Covid-19 broke out, many people have become depressed. Students had to return to their transphobic, misunderstanding and even violent homes. Trans*people need trans*people to receive support and understanding. But certain topics should be dealt with by professionals. But these are rare. I even heard a story when a guy was advised by a psychologist: “Tell them you have mood swings because of puberty.” I was shocked.

Because of emotional overload during the pandemic, soon I felt burnt out myself. But I enjoy doing my part to change attitudes towards trans*people through training sessions and seminars, where I act as a “living book”.

The long-term project “Portrait(s) of Queer Ukraine” started in November 2020 as part of the online exchange program “Covering LGBT issues in transnational journalism” within the Eastern Partnership Programme of the German Federal Foreign Office, organized by Deutsche Gesellschaft e.V. and Gender Z. Because of the corona measures the author could not meet the people personally. Almost all talks took place via digital devices, the photos were taken by the protagonists themselves. 


About the author:

Peggy Lohse  

Journalist and photographer from Frankfurt (Oder) / Berlin,