Lily. Lesbian, 27 years old. At the time of the interview, she remained in Kherson. The interview took place in December 2022.

I feel lonely. All my friends have relocated, even the cat ran away after the shelling. He’s been missing for three months already. If it weren’t for my girlfriend, I would go nuts.

I am Lilia, just Lilia, a lesbian. I have lived in Kherson all my life, I never left. The night before the full scale invasion began, my girlfriend and I had been to the cinema, we hadn’t suspected a thing. In the morning, I got dressed and took off for work. I was on the bus when I realized something wrong was going on. I could tell from people’s faces. When I arrived at work I saw everything was closed, local shops weren’t opening, people were running around, actively discussing something, I couldn’t figure out what exactly. So I called my manager and I found out I had “unplanned days off”. I was working as a cashier and a chef at a fast-food restaurant at the time.

I didn’t panic at all. Not only that, but I knew for sure I didn’t want to evacuate. There was my own apartment, my girlfriend, my parents, my cat here. Besides, pretty soon it became dangerous to leave: Russians offered to move to Crimea while the cars that were moving in other directions, for instance to Zaporizhzhia, Odesa or Mykolaiv, could have been shot at. So we decided to stay in Kherson. I remember that my girlfriend and I had managed to stack groceries on the very first day, which enabled us to stay locked in the apartment for a whole week. I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t managed to do so.

In a few days, prices started to soar. Dumplings cost 400 UAH – we were shocked. There was looting, broken windows. Shop owners had to quickly install bars on their windows. There were graffiti-like signs that read “Everything has already been stolen, nothing to take here”. No phone connection. No Internet. Curfew and Russian patrols. Some grocery stores worked illegally like they were some kind of pawnshops. That’s the condition in which my city greeted me after a week spent locked in the apartment.

I’m not familiar with Russian legislation, but I do know they don’t like LGBT. It’s still something wild and unacceptable for them, they are not evolving. I realized: if they ran into us somewhere in the city, they wouldn’t treat us well, mildly put. So at that period I wasn’t wearing anything rainbow-coloured, I also changed my hair colour. I avoided Russian military posts. So nothing bad happened, but I know I was just lucky. Two gays that I personally know had been captured: one of them for a short period of time, like 3 days, the other one for more than 2 months had been in Russian captivity.

They told a lot of stories: about interrogations, about violence, attempts to beat “the gayness” out of them, about their demands to cooperate. But I suspect they kept most of it to themselves. One of them had been followed for a while, so we didn’t see each other often and kept it down to small talk mostly.

After a while, my manager told me to come back to work. I received wages in hryvnia, I refused to take rubles. Russian forces didn’t leave us much choice: either you work in the city under their “authority” or you starve. People were afraid of them, they couldn’t say a word. Well, some people were glad, but very few. When Russians were coming to buy some food, they watched me closely as I was making shawarmas for them. You’ve probably heard the story of an old lady who poisoned 8 Russian soldiers with pyrizhky, haven’t you?

I stayed in the city after it was de-occupied. While my manager ran away because she had been collaborating with Russian forces. So after all the real collaborators had fled, it was the remaining citizens who were labelled as collaborators. Nobody cares that these are good people that have done no harm to anybody, they just had no viable options. It is very upsetting to see others often treating Kherson people as collaborators, while we were just trying to survive in our city.

There are no jobs now. When I felt completely desperate, I thought about relocation, but something always stopped me. The city doesn’t let me go. When we were about to leave for the first time, my yard was shelled. The windows in the flat were destroyed, there even was one small piece of a shell in my room. Luckily, I spent that night at my girlfriend’s place.

I don’t want to move abroad. A lot of my friends have gone, they seem to be fine: there’s welfare, there is accommodation. However, everyone complains about feeling foreign and alienated. And here I have an apartment, no one can evict me. My girlfriend is here, so are my mom and dad. I’m not alone.