Dmitry. Bisexual, 32 years old. From the Kherson region. Spent six months in the occupation. Currently has the status of an IDP and lives in Odesa. The interview took place in May 2023.

I’ll call myself Dmitry. I’m bisexual, I’m 32 years old. And I hope that not only will I reach the age of Christ, but I’ll get even older. I’m from Velika Oleksandrivka, which is in the Kherson region. I’m a foreign language teacher.

I remember the beginning of the full-scale war very well. A few days before that, I sprained my ankle. And how did that happen? I saw a post on Facebook that someone was buying Soviet toys for good money. And I’d just seen some of those in my attic. Well, I climbed there. I found them,  wanted to take a picture, but I forgot my phone downstairs. And, when I was going down, I sprained my ankle. The pain was so severe that my vision went dark. Once I dragged myself to the kitchen, I called my friend and said: “Help me, love! It hurts so much that I am turning gray and crying my eyes out.”

He rushed to me, put me in the car and brought me to the hospital. There they applied a cast and told me not to put any pressure on the leg for two weeks. On the way home, my friend bought me all kinds of food, so my fridge was full. It helped me a lot later. I even started to get used to jumping like a cricket.

And then there was the night of February 24th. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and on the weekends my partner stayed with me overnight. That night he was woken up by a call and he urgently went to work. He returned about an hour later, white as a sheet: “War. They told me to hide the weapons.”

And then Kherson was taken. And it was only 80 kilometres from us here. Those who could, started to flee. My friend said he would take his elderly father and then come back for me. But he didn’t return. And I was lying all the time or jumping with a cast on one leg until the Russian troops entered the town on March 13th. For some reason they were in summer uniforms. And that was a very windy day… And cold.

I ran out of food. I’m grateful that the neighbours gave me keys to their house before they’d left. So, little by little, I dragged all the stocks they had to my place. Meanwhile, horrors began spreading through our village. People just walked around and asked if there was anything to eat. There were no shipments, no humanitarian aid. There were attempts to ferry some things across Ingulets by boat, because the bridge was blown up.

And then they came to me with a search. A knock on the gate. I shouted that I would open in a moment. By the time I hopped on one leg, they had already opened the door themselves and entered. So, I went back to the house and sat down. And they rummaged around the house looking for military uniforms and looking at my photos.

One of them asked me: “Did you put on the cast on purpose? You must be a spotter.” And then proceeded to hit my cast with a baton! I started suffocating from the pain. They saw a book in German. I saw their eyes going red. They said: “Oh, you’re also a fascist.” I told them that this was a book by Remarque. Moreover, in Russia German was taught as well and there were also tutors. The one holding the book paused for a moment. And then he suddenly asked: “Were you friends with the police?”

I was dumbfounded. There was a woman named Albina in the village. She was constantly telling everyone that her father made good money in Russia, and that Russia was a country of great opportunities. She ran away to Europe eventually anyway. But when these guys came, she got drunk and ran around the village with her friend shouting “Akhmat is power” (Kadyrovs’ soldiers motto). And she’d seen me several times with my friend who is a policeman. I realised that was it – sink or swim. I said to the Russian soldier: “Well, yes, one policeman used to come to me for German lessons.”

They seemed to let this drop. They saw a computer on the table – disconnected it from the monitor, took the monitor and the computer. Found my stock of canned food. But nothing was taken. Apparently, they had heard stories that there might be poison in the cans. Well, I thought I got off lightly, only the computer was taken away. Fortunately they at least didn’t notice the laptop.

But then I suddenly realised! There were photos with a friend on the computer! If they find them, they will come again. And I was right. They came back and they were drunk. They asked if the leg hurt. By that time, the leg had already healed, but I didn’t remove the cast. I said: “Yes, it hurts, it’s healed incorrectly, and there are no doctors.” They started laughing: “Now we will cure you.” They took out lipstick from the bag with things they pillaged and painted Z on my cast. “Now it will heal fast”, – they roared with laughter.

By then I’d been already told that many people had been taken away, two people had been shot at the village outskirts. I think the cast saved me – dragging me around wasn’t fun. So they left. And by that time the village was already in bad condition: the windows were broken due to the shelling, there was no electricity. Therefore, my neighbours and I decided that we should go. At that time,  you had to pay 200 dollars per person at the checkpoint to be released, and the carriers additionally demanded 7 thousand hryvnias from each person. I only had 150 dollars, I hid them in the cast. And a laptop. I gave it to a neighbour with the money. But I was worried he’d take it all for himself. I was terribly afraid while we were driving. The road was broken, there were craters from explosions all around, black ruins in place of houses, the Russian soldiers pillaged even cemeteries. Many cars were lying upside down and the stench from the dead bodies was terrible. But I survived. I was lucky, unlike many others. Everyone was in danger then. It wasn’t Nazis that they shot, it wasn’t Satanists that they tortured. And being gay only increased your chances of dying. It made very little sense for me to come out to my own people, nevermind the scumbags with guns.

Half of my village is now destroyed, but my house is standing. I’ll come back and fix it. It’s a great place. That’s why I didn’t give you my real name. I don’t want any trouble when I come back, I’ve had enough crap for the rest of my life. Ukraine is quite a homophobic country, this is especially evident in small towns. Will this change? Well, it depends on us.