Kateryna. Lesbian, 40 years old. From Kherson. Currently lives as an IDP in Odesa. The interview took place in March 2023.

My name is Kateryna, I am almost 40 years old. I am a lesbian. Before the start of the full-scale war I lived and worked in Kherson. Now I am in Odesa, as they say, as an internally displaced person.

I remember the 23rd of February quite well, it was an ordinary day. I came home from work and brought some goodies. My girlfriend and I had dinner, sat together for some time and went to bed. The next day, Varya woke me up around nine in the morning with the words: “Katya, the war has started, we are being bombed! The port in Kherson was bombed!”.

I just had no idea that this was possible. We couldn’t believe, didn’t want to believe, that it was actually happening. We were just in a kind of stupor.

It was terrible during the occupation. Everyone was in danger, not just LGBT people. It didn’t matter whether you were a child or an adult, a girl or a boy. I don’t think there is any reason to divide people into groups. Everyone was equally terrified, it was dangerous for everyone.

That was why we didn’t leave the house for almost two weeks. We were lucky: I have a private house, where we lived with my girlfriend and cats. There were many cats: almost one and a half dozen sphynxes, we were breeding them at that time. The kennel was small, but it was my life’s work.

It’s good that we had food supplies: we only went out to buy bread. But there was a big problem with food for animals. It was ordered from Odesa and delivered by people we knew. Yes, it was very expensive but what could we do?

Our house is very well located, far from “civilization”. Therefore, the Russian soldiers didn’t visit us or our neighbours. But I still made sure to avoid them. If someone needed something, the goods were brought to us through intermediaries and they were picked up using passwords. Secrecy. Now when I look back at that period of time I can’t believe I had to go through all that.

I don’t really want to reminisce on how we spent the spring and summer of 2022. But I remember very well how on the 12th of November I needed to get something in the city. On the central square near the White house I saw Ukrainian soldiers with a flag. Even then, I thought to myself that this was some kind of provocation. Later when I called my friends it turned out we were really liberated. Without a single shot.

After the deoccupation we were afraid that the Russian forces would try to retake the city. So on August 20th my girlfriend and my mother left and took our cats: six adults and six kittens. They travelled for a long time: through Zaporizhzhia to Kyiv, and from there through Lviv to Poland. We thought we could move our kennel there. But keeping animals in Poland is very expensive, and we couldn’t find a house that would suit us quickly enough. So Varya and her mother returned to Ukraine. They stayed in Lviv for some time while they were deciding where to go next. In the end, they stopped in Odesa. Still closer to home. I must say that it’s not cheap to keep animals here either: people don’t have time for cats and dogs now no matter how much they love them.

I left Kherson in mid-November. Not only did I take cats with me, but also people. I got to Odesa on November 18th.

There wasn’t and there still isn’t any desire to go abroad. To be honest, I didn’t even want to leave Kherson not to mention going to Europe. In Kherson I had a nice job and a wonderful summer house. Everything was great, everything suited us. I didn’t feel any oppression in Ukraine. Neither by skin colour, nor by eye shape, nor by sexual orientation. I believe that Ukraine is a tolerant country. During the war or after it, I am sure, the attitude towards LGBT people won’t get worse. Because this is about a person’s freedom, human rights.

In Odesa, we are registered as internally displaced people. We receive cash payments and food packages from the state. There is no work, none at all. There is no electricity. At least for now. This isn’t life, this is surviving, existing. Nevertheless, everything will be fine. We’re planning to return to our native Kherson anyway, back to our own big house soon. Everything will be great, I believe it.