When Russian bombs started falling in Kharkiv, Svitlana Hontar had a plan.
Kharkiv is just 15 miles from the Russian border, and she didn’t want to endure occupation if the city fell. Her partner, Nadiia Molozhava, had survived that once already, spending several months in Donetsk after it was taken by Russian-backed forces in 2014.
Plus, Hontar said, “I didn't want to find myself under Russian occupation because I realized that, being a woman, I would be raped and beaten. And being a lesbian is an aggravating factor, so they would start trying to fix me and make me not a lesbian…. I was really afraid of this.”
They headed for Kyiv, where Hontar planned to join the Territorial Defense Forces defending the capital. But the roads were blocked, and the journey took a long time. Sheltering with strangers posed particular risks for a lesbian couple. One religious woman who hosted them for a night, Hontar recalled, “said that the reasons for the war in Ukraine were the existence of LGBT people and women getting abortions.”
When they finally reachedKyiv, the couple found a home at the shelter run by the queer organization Kyiv Pride. Molozhava was hired as the shelter’s administrator. For both women, living in a queer environment has been a revelation.
“Here we don't have to hide ourselves, we can freely say who we are,” Hontar said. “We are all traumatized, and we can all share this experience, and everyone knows that no one would be judged here.”
A symbol of their new freedom, Molozhava gave Hontar slippers embroidered with the words, “Welcome home.”
Hontar has registered for the military and is waiting to be called up. “We are fighting and doing everything we can for our country, we are doing this for everyone, whether they are LGBT people or not, including this lady who said I was to blame because I am a lesbian,” she said. “I am also working for our victory and for her.”
But she worries what will happen if she’s injured or killed.
“Nadiia, my partner, will not be able to sign the consent for surgery. Or if I die, Nadia won't be able to bury my body according to my wishes,” she said. “We need the same rights as a regular wife and husband…. During the war the need is even more urgent.”