Serhiy. Gay. From Odesa. The interview took place in June 2023.

My name is Serhiy Fontanskyi, I am a native of Odesa. I’m gay. And now I serve in the army. The evening of February 23rd, 2022 was quite calm. There were no premonitions or anything like what many people are talking about now. My boyfriend and I were at home, there was some commotion on TV, I was thinking about changing jobs from sailor to IT industry. Just an ordinary evening.

The full-scale invasion for me began suddenly the next morning. My boyfriend often works with texts at night, so he was the first to see messages on social media. He tried to wake me up, and I heard from him in a dream: “My dear, the war has started.” I didn’t understand what he was talking about, waved it off, crawled under the blanket and said to him: “It’s been going since 2014, what do you want from me?” And he is like: “You don’t understand! Look what’s happening! A full-scale invasion has begun.” And that woke me up better than any coffee.

Then I felt fear for the first time in my life. No, not an ordinary one. Fear for people, women, children. At the moment I cannot recall exactly, but I am glad that for the first ten days, I was with other people, evacuating women and children from front-line villages abroad. There was terrible panic, all checkpoints in the Odesa region were jammed. At that time, we didn’t take elderly people. And it was a morally difficult decision, but foremost, we couldn’t know how long our guys would last, because sometimes we went to evacuate and this was still our territory, but then we returned in three hours and the Russian armed forces had already broken through, and their position was a kilometer from the village. Therefore, first priority was given to children and women. And the civilians understood this. Secondly, when on the third or fourth day we began to offer to take old people, few people were ready to go. “How can I leave my cow? And the household? They will come and tear everything apart,” – we heard from them. I don’t know where the evacuated people went, but we took them to the border with Moldova. They probably went to different European countries via Chisinau. The work was difficult. Firstly, I’ve never done this before. Secondly, it was unbearable to see their eyes. Eyes full of despair, pain, incomprehension and fear. But in total, we were able to evacuate about 500 people.

I will never forget the heavy snow that fell then. And a mother with a small child in her arms walking up to her knees in the snow. Before, it seemed to me that such a thing could only be seen in movies, and by no means in real life. But after ten days the panic subsided so we stopped work: a number of people were transferred across the border, so I was assigned slightly different tasks.

To be honest, serving in the Armed Forces is not new to me. In 2014 I went as a volunteer, although I hadn’t served before. I was motivated then by the fact that some “green men” crossed the border of my state with weapons in their hands. So I realized that I should be in the army. Even though I’m a part of the LGBT community. To be honest, when I signed the first contract I thought I was the only one like that, and then various interviews and publications about others came out. And this told me that I did the right thing. I am a big broad-shouldered man, so it’s my God given duty to defend my country, my friends, my beloved. I was certainly aware of the enormous danger for LGBT people in the occupation. Russian ideology is identical to Nazi ideology. And both feed on hatred for others, for those who are different. For those who, in their opinion, cannot defend themselves. Therefore, the danger for LGBT people was clear as day.

In no way do I condemn those people who left Ukraine because of the war. People are like ants: there are workers and there are soldiers. And this is not because someone takes strength from some big ideas, but some aren’t capable of that. It is something genetic. You just instinctively do it. It seems to me that in humans this works at some level of the limbic system, rather than higher nervous activity. And as a sergeant in the Armed Forces I don’t condemn these people either, because they are useless to me on the front lines.

I am a soldier ant: all men in my family were soldiers. So I’m no exception. Although to be honest, I spent some time during the full-scale war in Europe. It was my first trip abroad. I went through training at the NATO Special Operations Centre. I got a great experience there, and now I put it into practice. I dream that I will live to witness the victory and do it in moscow. I’m not going to write anything on the ruins of the Kremlin. I just want to see how this two-headed vulture falls.

Each of us is doing what we can now. Everyone is bringing victory closer. So believe in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and donate. This is also a significant contribution to the victory against Russian ideology.