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The Unicorn Rises: What Future for the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ Community?

As part of the build-up to June’s Safer To Be Me Symposium, we are proud to be sharing our Safer To Be Me: Global Voices blog series, showcasing LGBTQ+ themes from around the globe, written by ReportOUT volunteers.

This week’s blog comes from ReportOUT researcher, Daniel Santos from Portugal, who analyses the situation facing LGBTQ+ communities in Ukraine and considers what their post-war future may look like, a subject first addressed by ReportOUT at the time of the Russian invasion.

It has been over a year since the Russian Federation started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, leading to almost 7.000 civilian deaths and more than 11.000 injured, with military casualties assumed to be in six figures (UNHCR 2023). From all the people that are suffering, the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community tends to be forgotten, but what future is left for them?

False Promises, Faded Hopes

Before the invasion, the lives of Ukrainian LGBTQ+ people were far from secure. After the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, a large portion of the LGBTQ+ community had high hopes for queer emancipation in the country. However, the expectations for more freedom and recognition of their rights quickly turned into shattered dreams (Inquiries Journal 2023). The discrimination and hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people rose (Wannebo 2017), and the vulnerability of the community remained high and it appeared Ukraine was another Eastern European state failing in its obligations to defend its own LGBTQ+ citizens.

According to ILGA (2022), immediately before the Russian invasion, Ukraine was among the states most dangerous to be an LGBTQ+ person in Europe. For instance, Nash Mir’s (a Ukrainian LGBTQ+ advocacy group) 2021 study found that in 27% of the reported anti-LBGTQ+ hate crimes the police did nothing, with 38% of the cases not even being recorded or with an investigation started. Ukraine had its ups and downs, but unfortunately, it was never a paradise for the LGBTQ+ community.

Dangers Within and Without

Notwithstanding these previous conditions, the Russian aggression only aggravated the situation of the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine (Humanitarian Response 2022). According to ILGA (2022), LGBTQ+ Ukrainians are in urgent need of support both physically, medically, and psycho-socially.

On the one hand, trans people are being continuously marginalized and suffering from both direct and indirect consequences of the war.

For instance, with the Russian invasion and President Zelensky’s declaration of martial law, trans women are seriously endangered by the possibility of being forced to join military services and are having extra difficulties in accessing the necessary documentation to flee the country. Moreover, the trade restrictions to which Ukraine is subject limit the access to the necessary medications that both trans, intersex, and people living with HIV so desperately need.

In the context of the invasion, it is equally crucial to consider the situation of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia, the aggressor state. In Russia, LGBTQ+ rights are being targeted once again by the Kremlin. In recent years, there has been a backlash against LGBTQ+ rights in Russia, with the latest development being the extension of the ban on the so-called “LGBT propaganda” among adults (Reuters 2022), which now forbids any “demonstration” of non-heterosexual or non-cisgender expression, or “promotion of homosexuality”.

Therefore, with an increasingly homophobic and transphobic state mercilessly invading another sovereign state, it is completely normal for the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community to feel the conflict is an existential one.

Furthermore, with the Chechen leader taking an increasingly assertive position of hatred towards the mere existence of the Ukrainian population (Grid News 2022), and with international accusations of "anti-gay purges" (BBC 2022) being levelled at the Russian state, the fear that the LGBTQ+ community has for their right to life, let along more advanced freedoms, is completely understandable.

A Call To Arms – And To Survival

It is beyond question that Putin’s Russia represents a clear threat to the lives of all Ukrainians, and it is a particularly dangerous menace to the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community. On one hand, this community may seem powerless and helpless in the face of this war that has potential to drag on for years.

However, the inverse is true – the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community not only remains confident in their survival but are playing an active role in defending and attempting to liberate their nation.

Ukrainian LGBTQ+ volunteer fighters have been joining the army since the day of invasion in an effort to support their country in the defense of its territorial integrity and national sovereignty. These soldiers have been reporting to active duty using a “unicorn” insignia (Reuters 2022) that is a symbol that not only LGBTQ+ Ukrainians exist but also they will fight against the threat to the existence of both their community and their nation by a virulently homophobic enemy.

This insignia in itself is symptomatic of the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ recruits: if one of the Ukrainian unicorns is killed, by law, only family members and spouses have the right to receive such information, and therefore, the same-sex partner may never know that their beloved one has passed away (CBA 2022).

Pride In A Time of War

For the first time anywhere in the world, Pride celebrations were taken in a war-torn country during the conflict. The unique and vindicating experience of Kharkiv Pride (CBA 2022) demonstrated not only a Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community united in defense of their freedom and for their lives, but also a community united for an inclusive post-war reconstruction of Ukraine, a society which is slowly awakening to the existence of a patriotic LGBTQ+ community which has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other Ukrainians in defence of their land.

Furthermore, President Zelensky asked his government to consider the possibility of legalizing same-sex partnerships (Reuters 2022) while also stating that a redefinition of marriage would only happen in a post-war period.

Despite being the first step towards marriage equality in Ukraine’s history, it is a simple step without too much commitment from a leader who now, for the first time, appears to be willing to legislate LGBTQ+ rights in Ukraine.

Cynically, it appears somewhat dubious that the Ukrainian President puts this possibility on the table when the European Union, which in recent years has taken a leading global stance in affirming and defending LGBTQ+ rights, accepts and grants candidate status to Ukraine (Reuters 2022).

‘Hope Cannot Die’

It is difficult to conclude to what extent these statements by President Zelensky may be a “pink-washing” technique to encourage the LGBTQ+ community to join the Ukrainian army in the struggle to defend the country's territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Post-war history from the UK, USA and other European states tells us that in the such commitments are often disregarded when the fighting ceases.

Moreover, it is more than reasonable for the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community to doubt President Zelensky's true intentions about the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights, as this would not be the first time that this community would be left with high expectations about their rights, which then collapsed when discrimination and LGBTQ+-hatred-based violence increased in the post-Maiden revolution era. However, hope cannot die, especially when Ukraine continues to heroically resist Russia on the battlefield.

In conclusion, the future of the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community remains uncertain, not only due to the unpredictability of the current distressing and deadly war that causes indiscriminate harm to the population of Ukraine but also because of the previous experience that the queer community had in the post-Euromaidan era, which reflected a Ukraine not so different from the pre-revolutionary period in terms of acceptance and integration of the LGBTQ+ community

For now, the most important thing is to raise awareness of the contribution of the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community and ensure the war does not extend indefinitely.

Whatever the post-conflict era resembles, it is imperative to safeguard the well-being of the communities affected by the war, including our own. Whether considering contribution to the war effort or basic human rights, Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community more than deserve to have their basic rights. Their future can only be built if we ensure the existence of the present.


Daniel’s blog is part of ReportOUT’s Safer To Be Me: Global Voices series, in support of the Safer To Be Me Symposium, a joint ReportOUT-University of Sunderland project, which will take place on 22nd June 2023 at Sunderland University in the North East of England.

The symposium will create a safe space where some of the most important issues facing international LGBTQI+ human rights can be explored and discussed in great detail, as well as encouraging a call to action where all involved can identify meaningful ways to be proactive and make a powerful impact. To find out more, visit our website

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