Natalia. Lesbian, 53 years old. From the city of Kherson. Stayed in the city during the occupation. The interview took place in March 2023.

February 23rd, 2022, was an ordinary day for Natalia, 53, from Kherson. She worked, came home, thought about the summer… In the summer, she usually worked as an accountant for entrepreneurs who had business in leisure by the sea. She planned to earn money, renovate the bathroom, replace her mother’s headstone with a granite one. And on February 24th, all her plans were destroyed.

I was woken up by a call from my nephew. He said that the war had started, and I had to flee somewhere. I couldn’t understand anything and didn’t believe it, I went out on the balcony and saw people getting things into cars and driving away. Somewhere in the distance, I heard a rumble.

Later, I saw a missile fly by and an explosion at the Chornobayivka airfield – the balcony looks out on that side. There was shock and panic, but I quickly pulled myself together. During the day, all the residents of the house sat in the basement with their animals, and many spent the night there. I went home at night, but for a week or two I slept in my clothes just in case. If you could call it sleep of course. The products in the supermarkets quickly ran out, as did my money. I lost my job, I’m lucky that my friends and my brother with his wife helped.

I saw the Russian soldiers from the balcony in early March. There were a lot of them, and they were walking down my street. I remember how scared I was then. I tried not to communicate with the Russian forces and generally kept as far away as possible. They began to import products from Russia – the prices went up even more, the quality was awful. Medicine was useless, food for animals was terrible. Later our communications disappeared, instead Russian network and Internet providers appeared. Everyone walked with push-button cell phones and left their smartphones at home, because Russian soldiers used to check them.

On May 7th at 7 in the morning (that might’ve been symbolic), the Russian forces surrounded our house. They took away my friend’s husband, we’ve been friends with her for 45 years. She looked for him everywhere, it was difficult to find him. They let him go after a week. You know, he is such a big guy… I’d never thought that he could cry like that. He told us how he was tortured for hours every day because someone ratted him out. His legs were black with bruises, he shared this with us in a whisper. After that the Russian soldiers came five more times and each time they took someone. Meanwhile, we were sitting and thinking: “is this our turn?” I suspected that LGBT people were in greater danger in the occupation, given Russian forces’ attitude, but I tried not to think about that at such moments.

On November 11th, when our military had liberated the city, we didn’t immediately believe it, until cars with our flags started driving around.

Now I got a job again in the market, although the salary there is very low. I am supported by my beloved, she is currently working in a store, so we are not starving. It seems that life will never be the same as it was before the war. I’ve never felt so helpless before, I don’t know what to do, where to work, or how to ensure at least some basic standard of living. I don’t know if our family will be accepted in Ukraine. Despite all the changes, the country is not very tolerant. Maybe something will change in five years after the end of the war. But it’s hard to believe it.