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At the beginning of the war I hid in bomb shelters, now I ignore the sirens

Today I do not have a permanent home in Kiev (Photo: Dima Malenko)

I woke up in the early hours of the morning of February 24th with a phone call from my American friends.

As soon as I answered, they told me that all international news had been explained of Russia large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

I was scared, shocked and confused. I knew I had to leave my apartment in Kiev immediately.

It took me 40 minutes to pack my suitcase and get to the car. The military plane flew low and terribly loud. That was a surreal experience – it was hard to realize if it was a reality or the worst nightmare of my life.

Like other Ukrainians, I was not ready for war and the devastation and suffering it brings.

Now, more than four months later, I’m still trying to deal with all the changes. Today I do not have a permanent home in Kiev, a city where I have lived since 2010. I have brought all my belongings to my parents’ house in Ternopil, which is in the western part of the country.

The entertainment sector in which I have worked since 2015 has been severely affected by the war. I used to work on several projects at the same time – I made music videos for Ukrainian singers, made high budget fashion videos and produced commercials for local markets. Now neither singers nor fashion brands are investing in video content, so I have only a few low budget projects (especially social projects) to set up.

In the past, I was proud of a great team of true professionals. But unfortunately, I lost many members of my team through the war: some of them were fighting at the front line, and others had fled Ukraine to start a new life in a new country.

As a producer and film director, I had many plans for the future (Image: Supplied)

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, I lived my life to the fullest.

As the founder and creative director of the non-governmental organization UKRAINEPRIDE – an organization that supports the patriotic queer movement – I actively participated in Prides, organizing events for the queer community in Ukraine, and gave interviews and speeches on human rights and equality. promoting for LGBTQ + people.

In the summer of 2021, we held a creative political show called ‘Reyvakh Pride’ – reyvakh can be translated from Yiddish as ‘noise’ – disguised as a rave outside the office of the Ukrainian president.

The aim of the event was to draw the public’s attention to the safety of LGBTQ + people, the arbitrariness of the police, the lack of investigation into crimes committed by radical groups against the community in the past, as well as the electronic scene of Kiev .

It was the longest – it lasted 10 hours – and the most creative LGBTQ + protest in the history of our country. And I’m proud to say that we managed to organize it all on our own, without sponsors or support.

As a producer and film director, I had many plans for the future, and I was happy to contribute to the industry in which I worked and watch it grow.

The war has changed my life, and now I have other goals.

After my friends and I left Kiev, we went to my parents’ house and stayed there for two months. Living under one roof, we did our best to support each other – it was the only way to deal with all the bad news about countless deaths and destruction.

In the early days of the war, we ran to the bombs when we heard sirens of airstrikes. In a week we were tired of running often – both physically and mentally.

I always say that we are all equal in our sorrows, fears and struggles (Photo: Dima Malenko)

When a siren went off, we simply moved to the hallway, the only safe place in the house where the ‘two walls’ rule works (a rule we use where if there are at least two walls are between the person and the street where the explosion takes place, the person is likely to survive)

Now I ignore the siren of the air attack, even though I understand that it could cost me my life. I have already witnessed how war took the lives of my friends and colleagues; some of them were part of our LGBTQ + community.

I defend my homeland as best I can.

Since the war started, I have been using my voice to talk about Ukraine. Almost every day I reach out to international media and give interviews – I explain how the Russian invasion has affected my life and the life of the Ukrainian LGBTQ + community.

In principle, LGBTQ + Ukrainians suffer from the complete invasion, just like other Ukrainians. I always say that we are all equal in our sorrows, fears and struggles.

The only difference, I think, is that LGBTQ + people experience more stress. No matter how high our performance is, we still deal with hatred of other Ukrainians, and it has a negative impact on our physical and mental well-being.

But we are strong, and we can handle it all.

In the first days of the full invasion, my UKRAINEPRIDE team launched a donation campaign. We have raised funds to support the LGBTQ + military and its families, the Azov Battalion, the elderly and children with special needs.

When I returned to Kiev after two months in the war, I was nostalgic about last summer and our Reyvakh Pride. It inspired me to create a video project entitled ‘Pride is not available in your region’ in alliance with our friends from Taimi.

The main goal of the project was to show how war has changed the lives of our queer community. I wanted to highlight the contribution of LGBTQ + people: some of them work as doctors, volunteers, or fight at the front line.

The first movie day was unforgettable: we got together for the first time since the beginning of the war. We immersed ourselves in the creative process and just enjoyed the things we were good at. It almost felt like we were living a normal life.

Everyone who participated in this project had a strong desire to stop this war as soon as possible. People work with absolute dedication with pure emotions. It was such a great moment that the tears started running down my face.

This video is powerful, and it will take its place in Ukrainian LGBTQ + history.

We created this project to remind the world of what is happening in Ukraine. We expect the media to grab attention and bring our victory closer.

We have since received support from Ukrainian celebrities, politicians and international media. This film is still gaining momentum. It will contribute to our victory on all fronts, including the cultural one.

Today, as Ukrainians, we live in two different realities and fight for our lives and freedom in real life and the information war. As queer, we are fighting on even more fronts to remain visible and equal in the war.

In this case, we desperately need international support from our community and allies to talk about LGBTQ + Ukrainians during the Russian invasion.

If the world does not pay attention to what is happening in Ukraine, the war will come to other European countries.

More than anyone in the world, we seek peace. But peace at any cost is not an option for us.

We did not start this war. We have not invaded foreign territories.

Our sovereignty and territorial integrity are not subject to compromise.

Do you have a story you want to share? Contact us by email James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk.

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At the beginning of the war I hid in bomb shelters, now I ignore the sirens

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