Ihor. Gay, 40 years old. From Odesa. During the war, faced unfounded accusations of looting. The interview took place in August 2023.

I’m 40 years old, I’m gay. Born and raised in Odesa. In Odesa I became a stylist-hairdresser, people say even a good one. I am currently under house arrest. And yes, my current situation is closely related to the start of the full-scale invasion.

I can’t say I’m a political expert, but only a deaf or blind person wouldn’t have seen something coming. I was very scared. The first times the air raid sirens went off I cried. And when explosions were heard I felt hysterical. To be honest, I’ve been very emotional since childhood.

I have never felt  the need to hide my emotionality. Surely you know these phrases like “Men don’t cry” or “Why are you bawling like a woman”? I came out at the age of 23, so I stopped worrying about all that. Sure, my mother wanted grandchildren, but she came to terms with it eventually. Of course, the child can be adopted. But it is either very expensive or almost impossible for a single man. Nevertheless, I still love children. As soon as I started to earn a decent income, I started helping orphanages and boarding schools for orphans. At first I’d joined other people’s efforts then became a volunteer, I even took part in campaigns to support orphans.

The war found me in Odesa. For some time I was in a kind of stupor, I was very afraid. A lot of different news was going around. Some said that somewhere in Luzanivka there were Russians landing, that the city of Yuzhnii had already been captured. But somehow it calmed down, so since the end of May I started working again and helping children.

It is with my volunteering that my arrest is connected. Acquaintances and relatives often donate their children’s clothes, shoes. I clean them, repair them if necessary and bring them to orphanages. Once I was on my way home early in the morning after visiting some friends. Well, on the steps of the building where I’d been, I saw a box of shoes. They were children’s and women’s shoes. I took that box to give it to the boarding school on Makarenko St. And then it turned out that these were the old shoes of a former prosecutor and now lawyer, who was a suspect in the case of fraud, attempted bribery of an official and abuse of power. And who was kicked out of work because of the bribe. His wife claims that she took these shoes out while cleaning. Of course, I had no idea that the owner needed the old shoes, and when the police called me, I honestly said that I had them and I would return them. But… the owner of the shoes refused to pick them up, and they opened a criminal case against me for theft and looting.

I don’t want to mention in detail what humiliation and challenges I had to endure. I will only tell you about one of the most vivid memories. I collect Barbie dolls. The search of my apartment took place without me, as I was on the other end of the city at that time. When I returned home after another interrogation, the door to the apartment had been broken, everything in the apartment had been scattered, my dolls, which I have been collecting for more than 10 years, had been lying on the floor… Every time I recall it I have tears in my eyes.

Unfortunately, unlike the peaceful life when the punishment for theft is a fine or an administrative penalty, during a full-scale invasion any theft is considered looting and is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. I still can’t believe that a person can be sentenced to eight years in prison for old shoes…

Now people from the police force constantly call me and offer to make a deal. Can you even imagine that a box of used shoes would cause that much trouble during peacetime?… I think this is also happening because I’m gay. I have already faced homophobic attacks and threats. I was almost killed once, the police know that I’m gay, they know that I have my own apartment, that my parents are old and suffer from heart disease and high blood pressure.

So I can say that Ukraine is a homophobic country. And Odesa is a homophobic city. If you are gay, you will be considered a second-class person here. I wanted to believe until the last moment that everything could change for the better. Nowadays I have lost faith in Ukraine. And every day I ask God that I fall asleep and never wake up again. All this is too much for one person, I think.