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LGBT+ soldiers hope Ukraine moves towards same-sex marriage

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Pasha Iagoyda, 21, (pictured left) fights for his country as an anti-aircraft gunner in the Ukrainian army. His partner Vladislav (right, with Pasha) fought to defend Ukraine in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. But when Pasha is injured in the current war, Vladislav cannot visit him in the hospital because they are not married.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Pasha Iagoyda has been fighting for his country on the battlefield, firing at Russian warplanes as anti-aircraft guns. But if he is injured or killed, his partner has no right to visit him in the hospital or collect his body. As a same-sex couple, they are not legally related under current Ukrainian law. Like many gay men and women defending Ukraine against Russia, Pasha hopes his service will help Ukraine recognize same-sex partnerships and one day recognize marriage.

In Ukraine, currently only family members have the right to go to hospital to visit wounded soldiers or collect their bodies if they die. Since the Ukrainian Constitution defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman, same-sex couples have no legal rights if something happens to one of them on the battlefield.

an online petition to legalize same-sex marriage in Ukraine has received more than 25,000 signatures – enough for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to consider. Responding to the plea, Zelensky noted on August 2 that it is impossible to change the constitution during wartime. But he promised to explore the possibility of civil unions, which could serve as an alternative to marriage to ensure visitation rights for same-sex couples as the war continues.

The petition was launched in June by Anastasia Svenko, a 24-year-old English teacher who was angry that same-sex couples could not get married before going to war. She told The Observers on Aug. 7 that she was satisfied with Zelensky’s proposal.

At least we now get something for our soldiers and civilians to be happy and legally protected. I hope this is just the beginning of what we can get later, after the war.

‘If I die, my boyfriend can’t take my body home’

Many soldiers of the LGBT+ community post on an Instagram page called LGBTIQ Military to talk about their personal experiences as a sexual minority in the Ukrainian armed forces.
Many soldiers of the LGBT+ community post on an Instagram page called LGBTIQ Military to talk about their personal experiences as a sexual minority in the Ukrainian armed forces. © Observers

Iagoyda was 20 when he first enlisted in the Ukrainian army in the spring of 2021. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he was transferred to a volunteer detachment and now serves as an anti-aircraft defense force against Russian warplanes. His partner, Vladislav, fought for Ukraine in 2014.

My friend has previously fought in the Anti-Terrorist Operation in 2014, which captured Crimea. He’s not fighting Russia now because I didn’t let him.

At the moment we communicate with each other by telephone or video calling. He gives me a lot of mental support, even though he worries about me.

If something happens to me, my boyfriend can’t take my body home because we’re not married. We must legalize same-sex marriage in Ukraine.

Our president is a wonderful person and he is doing everything he can to legally bind us despite the fact that we are under martial law. I understand his logic, and whatever decision he makes, I will accept it. I’m just glad he’s taking the matter seriously instead of ignoring our call for change.

Iagoyda says that although he has never experienced homophobia in the military, many of his heterosexual comrades share stereotypes about homosexuals that are common in Ukrainian society. He hopes his service in the military, and that of other gay men and women fighting the Russian attack, will help change those stereotypes.

I’m not afraid to be openly gay in the military! However, many people still have a mentality that does not fully understand what homosexuality is. That’s why they still ask stupid questions. The most common are: “Don’t you like hanging out with girls?”, “How do you have sex?” and “How can you love penises?”

In Ukraine, gays are usually considered weaker. Some people here have stereotypes that we can’t stand up for ourselves.

‘Gay soldiers destroy stereotypes’

In a 2019 questionnaireOnly 14% of Ukrainians surveyed said they believe homosexuality should be accepted by society – significantly lower than elsewhere in Europe.

In peacetime, Sergey Fontantskiy, 40, is a navigator on merchant ships. He volunteered to serve as a machine gunner in the military in 2014 and has been defending Ukraine again since the 2022 invasion. Fontantskiy, who is openly gay, shared with observers some common stereotypes in Ukraine against LGBT+ soldiers.

Sergey Fontantskiy, a gay Ukrainian soldier, with a gun in the field.
Sergey Fontantskiy, a gay Ukrainian soldier, with a gun in the field. © @__serhii__fontantskiy

I know other gay soldiers in the military and we even have our own fraternity, a group that allows gay soldiers to communicate, discuss their personal lives and meet, both online and in person. There are just as many gays as in other professions, I’d say about 5%.

I do believe that the percentage of Ukrainians willing to accept LGBT+ people is much higher than 14%, as indicated in the 2019 survey. Sure, it’s my personal experience, but I’ve never encountered homophobia.

However, there are outdated stereotypes about gays in Ukraine. Perhaps the most common are that gays are too timid and not brave enough to defend their homeland with weapons, or that they are too selfish and only concerned with their own gain.

But gay soldiers are destroying these stereotypes. The war shows that LGBT+ Ukrainians, like our heterosexual brothers and sisters, also defend our homeland.

This same-sex marriage petition is very important, especially now that every day could be my last. I fully agree with Mr Zelensky that civil union is more convenient at the moment.

‘After all, we protect the country in the same way as heterosexuals’

Selfie of Aleks Shadskykh in uniform

Selfie of Aleks Shadskykh in uniform

Aleks Shadskykh, a gay Ukrainian soldier, fights in the field against Russia.

Aleks Shadskykh, a gay Ukrainian soldier, fights in the field against Russia.

Aleks Shadskykh, a junior sergeant serving as a platoon medic. He was a medical student before the invasion of Russia.

I joined the military as a medical volunteer. Since March 10, I have been on the front lines treating soldiers’ injuries and saving their lives.

I heard that at the beginning of the Russian invasion some Ukrainians believed that LGBT+ people did not want to fight and that they all fled the country. But this was not true. Many of our community volunteered to join the war effort and serve as soldiers or, like me, medics.

In the past, LGBT+ people were not well regarded in Ukraine. However, the level of acceptance has now increased. After all, we protect the country in the same way as heterosexuals. I believe that conditions for LGBTQ people in Ukraine will improve.

Our society has become more LGBT+ friendly. For example, when I told my comrades in the military that I’m gay, nobody beat me up. The other day I saw two boys walking in the park holding hands, and no one even made a comment. After gay marriage is legalized, I think we will have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

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