Alya. Lesbian, 24 years old. From the Kherson region.  Was in Nikopol at the beginning of the full-scale war. After the explosion at the Kakhovska HPP, left for Odesa. The interview took place in July 2023.

Her pretty yet thin face is crossed by two sharp wrinkles from the nostrils to the mouth. This is what sorrow looks like. Beautiful dark eyes gaze wearily but calmly.

 – My name is Alya. I’m 24 years old, I am a lesbian. I’m from Novovorontsovka in Kherson region. I moved to Nikopol to live with my girlfriend three years ago – right after Covid had broken out. I got a job in healthcare there so I don’t remember the last day of peace: there was too much work. Like any other day basically.

But I will never forget the first day of the full-scale invasion. The mayor addressed us with a speech saying that nothing disastrous was happening in Nikopol, but we should be ready. It’s funny, because he himself turned out to be unprepared.

The disaster started unfolding in March. Russian forces came to the Nuclear power plant (NPP). Our soldiers were gunned down there, a fire broke out. Then, posts and articles about Enerhodar and Nikopol started to appear on the Internet: “The largest NPP in Europe! Blah blah blah! We express very deep concern.” I bet they’re still expressing it. Their mouths aren’t even tired.

Meanwhile, the Russian forces started shelling us. Several times a day. Their artillery would come and shell the city under cover of the NPP.

In the beginning it was very scary. I kept having nightmares of a red-hot fireball over a water reservoir. We regularly discussed with colleagues and acquaintances what to do in case the NPP was blown up.

It didn’t become less scary with time, because they began bombing the city. Very often. The place I worked at got hit too, by the way. I went out for a smoke in the afternoon after lunch. And then suddenly, like a blow to the chest. I fell on my back, I heard the glass breaking somewhere, my co-worker was yelling something. It was like all the sounds were coming through cotton wool – the ringing in my ears was unbearable… It turned out that we were hit, a person was killed about 20 meters away from us. Whereas I stayed alive, though I still can’t hear well in one ear. It’s not that bad, although I have to turn my right ear to my girlfriend when we talk.

In the first few days, we’d hoped that all this would end in two or three weeks, a month at most. Hello Arestovych (predicted war would end in a few weeks), as they say. But many of the locals had left immediately. It is very hard to live in a city next to an NPP, occupied by the Russian forces.

However, as it got warmer, people began coming back. Even those who’d said they were leaving forever. And to be honest, we were tired of being afraid. For better or worse, humans can get used to anything. So we got used to all this.

It was difficult nevertheless. Especially after the dam was blown up. The water level dropped, the heat outside was crazy: about 40 degrees °C in the shade. I would go out in the morning, wait in a queue, and then drag those water jugs in a wheelbarrow. And you can see, I myself weigh like two water jugs. How much could I bring back really? At least it was good that a few litres of clean water were brought to the elderly for free every two days.

But younger people had to do everything on their own. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to wash up if you didn’t bring the water home. My girlfriend was very ashamed when we couldn’t do it, sometimes she even cried because of it.

One day we decided to go crazy and collect service water. It had such a brownish colour that it was disgusting even to look at. We were afraid to get some kind of scabies. But we boiled it and then showered with it. Nothing happened, we’re alive and well. It’s good that we have each other. Even though it’s really hard when in addition to all the chaos you have to fear for your loved one, and on top of that, you have to constantly be wary of your neighbours and their disapproval. I always try to support my girlfriend, I say that those who judge us are narrow-minded, and there is nothing to talk about with them, there is no need to pay them any attention at all.

But Russian soldiers are a different breed altogether. I’ve heard many stories of how they beat and tortured gays, and raped lesbians, because, as they say, lesbians “haven’t had a right man yet.”

We got lucky. We haven’t been under the occupation, we haven’t seen Russian soldiers, none of our LGBT acquaintances have been harmed.

In July, I moved to Odesa. The lack of water, normal living conditions and the proximity of Russian forces made us do it. For now, I am looking for housing and registering as an internally displaced person. As soon as I find a decent apartment, I will immediately take my beloved here to be with me. I want to believe that our Armed Forces will kick out the Russian forces from Ukraine, and we will continue our lives and will move on. I believe in Ukraine, I believe in our victory.