The war in Ukraine has improved opinions of the LGBT+ community in the country, according to a manager of a shelter run by KyivPride.
Jul Sirous and Olha Onipko help provide temporary housing for LGBT+ refugees of the Ukraine war.
Shelter co-ordinator and education manager Olha told the PA news agency people wrote to KyivPride asking for a few hours’ or days’ shelter as they moved in search of safer pastures after Russia’s invasion last February 24.
She said they needed to provide their community with “a safe place”.
Generally, people who stay there are offered shelter, psychological help and training courses to qualify for new jobs.
The fundraising for the shelter was the brainchild of Briton Steve Taylor, who lives in Copenhagen and is on the board at EuroPride.
According to the European Pride Organisers Association, the current total raised in aid of both Kyiv and Kharkiv Pride so far is almost £90,000.
Shelter security manager Jul said: “I hope that when we will have this first Pride after the victory we will be able to invite all these organisation(s) to our Pride.”
Jul said the network shows the LGBT+ community has the “power” to help each other.
“It is the main reason why, and it’s not only about LGBT community… I mean even Ukrainian society was changed and started helping each other and this is the main reason why Russia won’t be able to win because we are not separate. We are like one nation,” Jul said.
“You can see that opinion about LGBT people during war was changed also dramatically and it’s a good change because a lot of people understand that such things like sexual orientation or gender identity… it’s like not very important when you are saved by these people or when you are held by these people and I think it’s amazing.
“Unfortunately we pay a big price for this understanding but it’s a good change in our society.”
Jul said stories of Russian soldiers targeting LGBT+ people for sexual violence and murder are true.
They told PA about an activist they knew from Kherson who was captured and held by Russian soldiers for two months.
“It’s not easy to say that he was raped but it’s true,” Jul said. “Unfortunately a lot of people (were) raped by them.”
Jul claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin used the LGBT+ community as “a reason to attack Ukraine”.
Both managers said their names are on a Russian kill list.
Olha told PA the kill list is an attempt to “destroy” activists.
“If there are not any activists you can change opinion of other people more easily,” she added.
She said she was “proud” to be on the list.
Asked about the one-year anniversary of the war, both managers insisted they are not afraid, even though they are in “pain” thinking about people and friends who have been lost.
Telling the story of a man who came to stay at the shelter after travelling from his home in Kharkiv, Olha said: “He was walking outside and, at that moment when he was walking, all his family was at home in a building and at that moment Russian missiles destroyed his building and all his family was killed – parents, sisters, brothers.”
He stayed at the shelter for about a month and is now working in western Ukraine and continues to write to Olha, who said his story affects her greatly.
Asked what message they want to send out, the pair said it is important for them to continue their work in Kyiv and hope to live in a democratic Ukraine which becomes part of the EU, UN and Nato.