LGBT troops stationed on Ukraine’s front lines are combatting homophobia


One corner of Kyiv’s central square, a poignant symbol of Ukraine’s resilience, is now adorned with thousands of small blue and yellow flags honoring fallen soldiers. Recently, a different kind of flag was added to this growing memorial: unicorns, each representing a gay soldier who lost their life in the conflict.

The deaths of LGBT soldiers in Ukraine have highlighted a stark inequality. They lack the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts; gay marriage is illegal, denying their partners the authority to make decisions about their bodies or receive state support if they perish in battle.

Rodion, a 30-year-old costume designer, came to plant a flag in memory of his former boyfriend Roman, who was killed just before his 22nd birthday during the early stages of the invasion. Roman and five comrades from his brigade perished in a missile strike near Kupiansk, after their location was betrayed to Russian forces by a local family.

All this death, all this blood—it’s the same, whether you’re heterosexual or homosexual, Rodion said, but his words were interrupted by the familiar whir of air raid sirens. Pointing to the sky, he continued, “Missiles can kill us all alike. The war has heightened the urgency of the struggle for equality. I’ve waited 30 years; I can’t wait another 30, because I can’t guarantee I’ll be alive when this ends,Rodion lamented.

Attitudes toward LGBT rights in Ukraine have evolved significantly over the past decade as the country has embraced European values, although many still cling to socially conservative and homophobic views. The presence of openly gay soldiers fighting and dying on the front lines has challenged entrenched prejudices, yet substantive change remains elusive.

Hopes soared last year with the introduction of a bill to legalize civil partnerships for same-sex couples, but progress stalled after 14 months. Meanwhile, LGBT soldiers have reported experiencing bullying and harassment within their units.

Mariya Volya, a 31-year-old radio engineer serving since 2015, nearly lost her life defending Mariupol, now under Russian occupation, in 2022. The invasion prompted her to publicly come out, shedding her earlier fears. She shared her story on a TikTok account for LGBT soldiers, only to face orders from her commander to delete it and a barrage of online hate from anti-LGBT activists. Mariya transferred to the Donetsk region, near the eastern front, but continues to endure discriminatory remarks both online and on the streets, sometimes feeling unsafe in her military uniform.

On June 16, during a break from the front line, Mariya joined her fiancée Diana in attending Kyiv’s first Pride march since the invasion, clad in khaki camouflaged trousers. Together, they chanted for “victory and equality,” demanding more weapons and civil partnerships. Legalizing gay marriage remains out of reach under martial law, but Mariya stressed the importance of protecting her fiancée should something happen to her.

Despite the risks, Diana supports Mariya’s activism, though she sometimes finds it difficult to hear about the dangers Mariya faces during their calls from the front line. Mariya and Diana were among about a dozen LGBT soldiers who braved lashing rain to attend the march, a gesture unthinkable just a year earlier.

The march marked a critical moment for one couple, using the occasion to come out to their families and military units. “This is a profoundly emotional day for us,” they shared anonymously. “We’re proud to show people that there are many gay soldiers like us on the front lines defending Ukraine.”

The visibility of LGBT soldiers on the front lines owes much to Viktor Pylypenko, Ukraine’s first openly gay soldier, who came out in 2018. A combat medic, Viktor fostered an online community on Instagram where serving soldiers could share their experiences. He noted that disclosing his sexuality to those he rescued often led to greater acceptance, underscoring shifting attitudes.

Viktor acknowledged a paradoxical boost from Vladimir Putin, whose promotion of traditional family values has galvanized Ukrainians to resist homophobia as part of their broader rejection of Putin’s ideology. “This is a values war,” Viktor affirmed, emphasizing the need to embrace liberal values for Ukraine’s continued integration into Europe, including potential EU and NATO membership.

The BBC reached out to Ukraine’s military for comment on the treatment of LGBT soldiers but had not received a response by the time of reporting.

Ukraine’s LGBT soldiers, amid the horrors of war, are fighting not just on the front lines but also for recognition, rights, and equality, even as they confront entrenched discrimination and legal barriers at home. Their courage and activism amid adversity highlight a critical chapter in Ukraine’s ongoing struggle for freedom and human rights.


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