Dmytro. Gay. 49 years old. From Odesa. Currently in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, a drone operator. The interview took place in February 2023.

I am Dmitry. I am 49 years old. I am gay, born in Zaporizhzhia, I have lived in Odesa for almost 30 years now. Now I am in the Armed Forces as a drone operator. I’m not very well-known yet: videos of my work haven’t been posted on social media, but I hope it’s just a matter of time.

I will never forget the beginning of the full-scale invasion. I went to my dacha, it’s on the way to Mykolaiv. I woke up at five in the morning from the sound of explosions and looked at the bed. Saw my lover there. Sleeping as if nothing was happening. I woke him up, he turned pale when he heard the explosions. He said: “Dima, I don’t want to die.” He is quite young, but he’s already run into the Russian forces. I evacuated him from Chechnya when the hunt for gays had begun there, I helped him with the papers here.  He started to panic and was hysterical. I had a disgusting feeling of helplessness. And then I thought to myself: “No, that’s some bullshit.”

I sent him home in the morning and went to enrol in the army. A while ago the army was regarded as something not very serious. But since 2014 everything has begun to change for the better. The best people went to the Armed Forces: directors, musicians, philosophy students. As they say now, among two Ukrainian soldiers there are at least two university degrees, and among two Russian soldiers there are at least two prison terms.

First, I got into the training centre. It was necessary to learn how to fly safely, take photos and videos, understand and be able to transmit coordinates, and most importantly – save yourself and the drones. You know what the most difficult thing was? Keeping away cats and dogs. If a cat or a dog sees a drone operator at the position, it goes to you and wags its tail. Russian soldiers see this. And that is your end.

I studied there for two weeks and then chop-chop to the army. Just as we arrived at the base we were put in the IFV (Infantry fighting vehicle). And then you rush to the trenches to kick out the Russians. How? Where? There was no manual for that. No one gave a damn, we were ordered to advance. As we jumped out of the IFV we were hit by a tank from the windbreak, from the trees. We got back in the vehicle and drove away.

We arrived at the position, some guy was running around asking for the drone operator. I, completely covered in mud, said: “I’m the operator.” He looked at me and asked why I was so dirty and where I had been. Well, I told him we were taking care of the enemy lines. He was fuming with anger…

After this incident, I started flying. Drones are, foremost, for intelligence. I didn’t expect them to get shot down so often. If the drone has served at least a week, then it is already a veteran.

If we’re lucky, my boyfriend will have his own veteran too. He is now in France, by the way. And I am very glad that he was able to leave. I feel calmer this way. He helps us there, and I diligently do my work here. But sometimes it’s hard without him. And you can’t talk to anyone about your long-distance relationship. I don’t have specific mannerisms or something, so no one knows about me or even suspects. But if people start to talk, I won’t be silent.

To be honest, on the frontlines now no one cares about appearances or if you look “gay or not gay”.