Evgenia. Lesbian, 26 years old. From the city of Odesa. Leader of the human rights movement and volunteer of local LGBT communities. The interview took place in September 2023.

My name is Yevheniia, I am a lesbian. I am 26 years old, I live in Odesa. War. Did I believe that it would come? It is difficult to say. When I heard the sound of a fighter jet overhead back in 2014 I realized: a big war on the streets of Odesa was only a matter of time. At that moment it seemed to me that this was already so close – almost a tomorrow, spring at best. And this premonition was hanging over me during all these nine years. But as the beginning of this war was constantly pushed forward, there came a feeling that it wouldn’t happen in my lifetime.

Therefore, on February 23rd, I was more or less calm. I remember it vividly: I was standing in the smoking area and telling my colleagues about the difference between a state of emergency and a state of war and saying that if a state of emergency was declared in our country, it wouldn’t mean the beginning of war. To sum it up, I had been worried about war for a long time, but it was on February 23rd that I was sure that nothing would happen. I also donated to the Armed Forces that day. I had some money left on my eSupport card, so I transferred it to the Hospitallers account. I just thought: “I’m so anxious right now. What can I do? I can donate.” So I did. That day I constantly listened to the Rada TV channel. Probably, I was expecting some kind of official statement from Zelenskii or Stefanchuk. They didn’t say anything unusual, as far as I remember. I can say without a doubt: I had no idea that something huge was going to happen at that exact moment.

As for the people who were somehow “preparing” for the start of the invasion, it seemed to me that they were just overreacting and this was just a way to calm themselves. And the fact that my method was different was ok. Overall, that winter I often thought that Ukrainians would essentially split into three categories: those who would go to fight, those who would manage to evacuate, and those who would die. No, I perfectly get those people who on the eve of the full-scale war tried to get papers for their animals. Or those who made or extended foreign passports. Those people were determined to evacuate. As for the rest of the Ukrainians, any attempts to “prepare” for war seemed strange to me. For example, I didn’t do any preparations. I started doing something only in the first months of full-scale war.

Why didn’t I get ready? Because I was sure that I would take a weapon in my hands. So far that hasn’t happened, but again I think it’s only a matter of time. I didn’t consider evacuation. I thought that if I was lucky, I would be armed, if I was very lucky, I would die quickly. I did not overestimate myself, I perfectly understood that I wouldn’t go all the way victoriously or reach Moscow. I thought that if I went to fight, I would do everything to bring victory closer. But I didn’t think that I would be able to witness it.

Talking about the first day of the full-scale invasion,on February 24th not a single stall with shawarma was opened. And that’s when it started to look like everything had gone to hell. Because a shawarma stall is the last stronghold. You never expect that it might not work. Especially those ones that work 24/7. It was really creepy. The second moment was when Monobank stopped working. And I was like: “Oh, that’s it, my 15 hryvnias are blocked. Now we will definitely not be able to evacuate, we will hardly be able to buy something for cash either. We haven’t eaten any shawarma. Disaster on all sides. Most likely, we’re going to die.” And then at 11 in the morning I got down to work. Don’t get me wrong, I saw all those emails, direct messages, news. But my work day is my work day.

The full-scale invasion ruined all my plans. And there were a lot of them. We’d just moved to a new location, I was hoping that we would be able to restart the community centre. I remember that we’d already had a plan of events for March. I was also planning to really live and be alive in the spring of 2022. A few months before the onset of full-scale war, I’d gone into depression remission for the first time in my life. And to be honest, I really wanted spring. A really nice spring: plunging your nose into the apple blossoms, greeting every blade of grass and worm, being a Disney princess. I planned a beautiful, fairy-tale spring for myself. But spring came under a completely different banner, and the plans were completely forgotten.

During these one and a half years, lots of things happened. I quickly sublimated most of my energy into volunteering: hunting for canned goods, helping anyone who needed help. But at the end of 2022, all my batteries died, I had a very deep depressive episode. I just ran out of fuel and started burning like a phoenix. Burning and smelling like fried chicken.

What did I do during these months? I worked, thank God, all this time. And volunteered. A lot at first. Then more, then more, and then less. Volunteering is sometimes about running around the city and looking for a can of liver pate, because all those canned meats have been swept away. Sometimes volunteering is about the fact that you are in another country messing with the local deputies’ heads and trying to get money from them and explaining that we don’t have anything here. Sometimes volunteering is about speaking loudly into a microphone. Sometimes it’s about being quiet, where you should be quiet. Sometimes – about shaking hands with the mayor of Munich, and sometimes – about giving a bag of food to a person who hasn’t eaten in a long time and is very glad to have found you. And these are all shades of the same thing. And it’s all about great happiness and great grief. But sometimes I’m afraid to think that I won’t be a volunteer at some point. It is already an inseparable part of me, without which I cannot live. So yes, I worked and volunteered, loved and hated, cried and laughed, sang, wrote poems. Felt happiness. Got angry. Got surprised.  Woke up from explosions, slept through explosions. Didn’t make videos of our Air Defence working.

I went to look at the consequences of the missile hits. Didn’t learn to drive a car. Didn’t pull a person out from under the rubble. Donated blood. Donated to the Armed Forces. Donated for something other than the Armed Forces. Coped.

I’m very surprised to hear from people that Odesa wasn’t affected by the war as much. Despite the fact that we have been bombed since February 24th. There were nights when I couldn’t sleep because tanks were driving down the nearby street. For hours. Thank God, the tanks were ours. But sometimes you don’t want to hear them at three in the morning because you want to sleep. But the most striking sign of the war for me was the disappearance or reappearance of certain products. Salt or fish. And it’s a port city we’re talking about. I’m not even going to mention the curfew. Or the fact that Russia has deprived many people of seeing sunlight. Possibility to breathe fresh air. Because Russia drove them into the subways, into bomb shelters, into the basements of buildings. Yes, war is always about limitations. And in Odesa, they are not as strict as in the frontline cities. But still, they are much more serious than in the cities of Poland or Germany.

Is Ukraine a tolerant country? I don’t have a definite answer. We used to be under occupation for years (in the USSR). So if we compare with Western countries then we have a lot to strive for. However, I am certain: Ukraine has the greatest potential for strong and conscious tolerance. Well, definitely more potential compared to the neighbouring countries. Most likely due to the fact that we are on our own path that’s not like the path of any other country. I believe that victory will be ours. And after the victory Ukraine will be beautiful. I choose to believe that people who will live in post-war Ukraine will be the ones who really love my country. And they would want to see it beautiful and comfortable for us. For them. Peaceful. A wonderful, fair, constitutional state.