Oleksandr. Gay. 25 years old. From the city of Kherson. He is currently a refugee and lives in the Czech Republic. The interview took place in October 2022.

Hello! My name is Oleksandr, I’m 25 years old, I’m gay. I lived in Kherson, now I’m working in Europe. Overall, I really love my city and miss it, especially the park near the university. It’s good that the centre of Kherson remained intact, the same can’t be said about the surrounding area.

We learned about the beginning of the occupation on the first day: at five in the morning we heard a powerful explosion, and at first we couldn’t understand what was happening. I was going to work when an acquaintance wrote to me that THEY were in town. I didn’t get it, I asked him who was? “Russians! They’ve attacked us!”

And on the second day, the Russian forces were already in the city. And immediately problems with communication began: they could last for two hours, it could be all day. However, some Ukrainian SIM-cards were still working: MTS and Life. But Kyivstar was immediately silenced. Probably, because of the word “Kyiv” in the title. But it didn’t last for long: Life was also blocked. First for a few hours, then for a few days. A month… When all communication was lost, I would go outside to get the news. I’d walk the streets or stand in lines. The queues were huge and for everything. It happened that you would stand in a queue all day and not get anything. Although, businesses continued to operate somehow.

We also tried to work. I was a sales consultant. And, by the way, the first time I saw the occupiers, I was at work. They came in and became indignant that they couldn’t buy anything with rubles. At that moment, my self-preservation instinct was triggered: don’t say anything if you want to live. So I kept quiet.

But this didn’t save me. At that time, neither banks nor ATMs were working, so money had to be exchanged at merchants. I received my salary that day and went to the market to look for someone who could exchange money. I found one trader, and during the exchange I noticed a Russian passport in his possession. I became a bit wary then, clearly. He exchanged money for me, and as soon as I left him, a car with the letter Z stopped near me. “Who are you? Where are you going? Show your passport! Undress! Show the tattoos.”

They forced me to undress, they examined me like cattle in the market, they started rummaging through my phone and found my messages.  I’m part of the LGBT community, as you know… “What are you, a f*ggot?” – they asked. I was silent. They smacked my bare buttocks and let me go. Maybe I was just lucky because it was daytime and it was crowded. Well, they also didn’t take money.

In general, we had difficulties with money then. Prices in stores soared 50 times, probably. We spent my entire salary on food: 10 kilos of potatoes, a litre of oil and grains. At first, there were still Ukrainian products, then they began to import Russian things. Over time they also became very expensive: a dozen eggs – 120 hryvnias, for example. And the exchange rate was one to one.

We lived all this time in constant fear. I heard that the occupiers were checking the apartments, looking for those who had served. There were cases when a person was taken out of the bus and brought somewhere. And you wouldn’t see or hear from this person anymore. No, it wasn’t even fear, it was horror: you could be walking down the street, something would explode somewhere, corpses would end up lying on the side of the road… And later, collaborators also appeared. You see, when nothing is happening for a month or two, there is no movement, people usually begin to accept the situation. So some started hanging Russian flags on their balconies.

When it became impossible to live in Kherson, I decided on evacuation. At that time, it already cost nine thousand per person. A while before it was possible to leave for four thousand. Still, I didn’t even have four thousand. I got help from an LGBT organization, a friend of a friend worked there: she arranged things for us and paid.

We travelled by car for three days. There were long queues at checkpoints. We passed 40 roadblocks, and at each one they pulled us out of the car, checked our bags, phones, undressed and searched us. I heard that there were even cases of rape at checkpoints. And it didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman, anyone was good enough for them. At each checkpoint, the driver paid for the people he drove. I don’t know how much, and I was in such a state where I no longer even believed that I would survive.

We got from Kherson to Zaporizhzhia, the driver refused to go further, and said that something was wrong with the car. I think he lied. We stayed together with a group, stayed for several days waiting for an opportunity to get to Kyiv. Unfortunately, we had to leave our cat there because we couldn’t take her with us. A very difficult road lay ahead. I went into some yard, there was an old woman sitting there, I said: “Hi, this is Tishka the cat, here is all the money I have and half a kilo of dry food for her.” I still regret it, I should have left my belongings and taken her with us instead.

Now I am in Europe, I was able to get a job. I hope that soon the war will end, my native Kherson will be liberated, as the Kharkiv region has been liberated. I want to return as soon as I can, but I need to earn money seeing as my house is badly damaged, and I will have to build a new one.