Roman. Gay, 20 years old. From the city of Kherson. During the occupation, he was arrested for six weeks. Currently lives in Odesa. The interview took place in February 2023.

My name is Roman. I am from Kherson, now I live in Odesa. I am almost 20 years old, an orphan, and gay. The story of my life isn’t really fun: at the age of nine, I got into a boarding school, studied there until the 8th grade. Then I lived in a dormitory and when I started working I rented a room. Now I’m a student, but I work for a living because you can imagine how “solvent” students are.

At the beginning of the invasion, I was at home. I woke up at four in the morning, went to the store. When I was leaving the store, I heard shots on the Antonivskyi bridge. I came to my friends and told them that the war had started. And they looked at me like I was an idiot. And then, when the announcement was made at five o’clock in the morning, everyone began to bustle about doing something…

We couldn’t leave in the first days because of shelling. Many of my acquaintances, who dared to leave Kherson in the first days, didn’t reach their destination. Because of Grads, missiles, shellings… There were children among them too. At least 15 of my acquaintances died. The connection with the others was cut off: our communication towers didn’t work, mobile signals were jammed…

I saw the Russian soldiers for the first time some 2–3 days after they captured the city. They approached me and asked for documents. They said they were in charge now. They asked where that district or another was. I pretended to be a fool, said I wasn’t local. My friends and I decided on this story in advance. That time, the Russian soldiers questioned me for a long time, about an hour. But they only took my phone.

But the second meeting with them didn’t go so well. Now I think it was my acquaintance (with whom we’d fought before) who betrayed me. He told them I was a patriot. When the Russian soldiers burst into my room and tied me up, I thought it was because I was gay. They broke down the door, put a bag over my head, threw me into a car and took me somewhere. Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to realize what and why.

There were many Russian soldiers in the car, they talked among themselves and boasted that in three days all of Ukraine would be theirs.

I don’t remember how long we drove, I don’t know where that basement was. When I was thrown there, there were two people, after a few hours there were already six, after a few more hours – about 15 or so. Mostly men, but there were also two women. Nevertheless, everyone was beaten.

In addition to beating, they also mocked us. We went to the toilet in a corner in front of each other, we were given such food that it was normal to find mud or stones in it. They gave five litres of water per day for everyone. So I sat there for several days until I was called for the first interrogation. They immediately told me that it was necessary to speak according to the script they had prepared. They kept me at gunpoint the entire time of the interrogation. Probably so that I wouldn’t say anything they didn’t want to hear.

 During the first interrogation, they tried to force me to confess that I was a separatist, that I had to plant explosives somewhere. During the second interrogation, they said that I gave their coordinates to the Ukrainian Armed Forces…

They also asked if I knew any gays. Well, they didn’t say “gays” exactly… They used a completely different word. I think if they’d found out that I had anything to do with LGBT people, I wouldn’t have gotten out of there.

They kept me in the basement for a month and a half. And then let me go. They said that if I talked, they would find me and shoot me. I was so scared then that I couldn’t leave the apartment. Even to go to the store. But a human being can get used to anything, so I found some courage and started going fishing, because I had to eat something.

And then our military liberated Kherson. Literally a few days later, I went to Odesa by evacuation bus, and there I live now.

But even in Odesa, I prefer not to talk about the fact that I’m gay. Unfortunately, Ukraine isn’t a tolerant place. It’s not only the Russians who don’t like us. But I hope in the next few years the situation will change for the better. Meanwhile, we are waiting for the victory.