How LGBTQ+ shelters are helping queer Ukrainians survive the war: ‘It’s a safe space’
“There’s a lot of homophobia in everyday settings in Ukraine,” according to Oksana Dobroskok.
Since Russia launched its invasion in February, millions of Ukrainians have been forcibly displaced by war.
Many have fled the country entirely, while others have relocated to major urban centres to escape shelling in their home towns, cities and villages.
Shelters provide refuge for many – but sadly, the mainstream ones can’t guarantee LGBTQ+ people will be safe from homophobia and transphobia, which remain pervasive.
Oksana Dobroskok works for Alliance Global in Ukraine, where she runs three shelters that cater specifically to queer people and their loved ones.
“There’s a lot of homophobia in everyday settings in Ukraine, so a lot of LGBTQ+ people need a supportive place that’s safe,” Oksana tells PinkNews, via a translator.
“It’s not only about providing food and drink, it’s providing some security. It’s a safe space.”
The first shelter was opened in Kyiv at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but when Russia invaded, Oksana realised such shelters could be a vital tool in helping LGBTQ+ people weather the war. They’ve since opened shelters in Dnipro and in Chernivtsi to operate alongside the one in Kyiv.
“It is possible to go to a shelter with your mother, your sister, or another relative because when you’re moving from one place to another you might go with your relatives,” Oksana explains. “It’s important to support not only LGBTQ+ people, but also people who are close to them.”
She also points out it’s important for LGBTQ+ people to have social connections with like-minded people, especially during such a traumatic period.
In addition to providing a safe space, Oksana and her team have been working hard behind the scenes to make sure their LGBTQ+ community has access to vital medications. They’ve been getting HIV treatment into the hands of people who are staying in their shelters, among other medications.
LGBTQ+ shelters could be a ‘stepping stone’ to a better future in Ukraine
Most Ukrainians are already thinking about a day when the war will end – and Oksana is hopeful the shelters will continue to have a use beyond Russia’s assault.
She points out homophobia will still be an issue after the war, and queer people will still need safe spaces they can fall back on when the going gets tough.
“These shelters might be a stepping stone into creating community centres, places where LGBTQ+ people can organise events,” Oksana says.
“These shelters will be important in western Ukraine because the LGBTQ+ community there is pretty closed, so such community centres might help people be more open. Such centres might improve LGBTQ+ representation and amplify LGBTQ+ voices to become an important part of this region.”
But the shelters can’t stay afloat without support from LGBTQ+ people everywhere, which is why Oksana is hoping the community will rally behind Ukraine and offer their financial assistance.
“Currently we are looking for funds to pay social workers, psychologists, [and] a legal team,” Oksana says. “Also we need funds to help the shelters keep functioning because shelters need food and have maintenance costs. Alliance Global is organising long term projects to help LGBTQ+ people get qualifications and change their jobs because a lot of people have left their cities and lost their jobs because of the war.”
Right now, the message is clear – the world must maintain its focus on Ukraine. The war is not over yet.
“We are really grateful for the support, but it’s really important people keep supporting Ukraine and the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ organisations,” Oksana says.
“A lot of people especially internationally feel like they’re tired of this war and this situation.”
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Donations are needed to help LGBTQ+ Ukrainians get through the war
It’s been five months since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The war has ravaged the country and caused the deaths of innumerable people. Millions have fled their homes in a desperate bid to get to safety.
It has been a uniquely difficult time for Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community. Some trans people are retreating into the closet entirely because it’s become difficult to get access to gender-affirming medication, while others have faced violence and aggression from Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces.
That’s why PinkNews has launched the LGBTQ Refugees Welcome campaign. The goal is to raise £50,000, with funds dispersed to OutRight Action International’s LGBTIQ Ukraine Emergency Fund and to Micro Rainbow, a charity that supports LGBTQ+ refugees in the UK.