Valeriy. Gay, 21 years old. From the village of Komyshany, Kherson region. Now lives in Odesa as an IDP. The interview took place in July 2023.

I live in Komyshany, it’s in the Kherson region. Lived. Now my sister and I are in Odesa, she recently gave birth to a daughter, so I am now an uncle.

We moved to Odesa not long ago, we had spent the entire occupation in Kherson. Actually, my sister gave birth there. And three days after her discharge from the maternity hospital, it was hit. That happened in January. Then my sister went to Mykolaiv and I stayed at home, taking care of the household. When it became too “loud” there, we decided to evacuate to Odesa. Literally a few days after our arrival to Odesa, we found out that we no longer had a home. There is a residence permit, but there is no house. It was located on the river bank. It seems like it was so long ago… Although I remember everything perfectly.

The day before the beginning of the full-scale war, there was a premiere in our theatre. I wasn’t involved in the performance, but I went anyway. It was acted wonderfully, and the play itself was unusual. Things were good. I had lots of plans. And then at night there were explosions.

I immediately decided to go to the gas station. Luckily, I managed to get a full tank. I can say that I got lucky twice: I also managed to withdraw cash. I went back to the theatre from the gas station. And there they already cut off the gas supply and opened the bomb shelter. Everyone decided to spend the night there, but I went home where my sister was.

It was just the two of us. It’s good that I had a car – when the occupation began, I became a taxi driver. I drove our guys to hospitals, drove women with food for those who were held in basements, and drove the Russian soldiers who were looking to buy drugs. Yes, it was dangerous. Every time you met the Russian soldiers, it could be the last encounter of your life. I once went to the Dnipro market, just to see what was there and how much things cost. They approached me. Took me away. Just like that – for nothing. Well, first they asked for the phone – to check. Nothing to check there – I had a push-button Nokia, I specifically carried one so that no compromising information would be found. That’s when they got angry and took me away. When we stopped, they told me to undress. I think they were looking for tattoos. I don’t have any. So they needed something to complain about. They saw that I had nice sneakers, New Balance. And this company’s logo is the letter N. If you look at it from an angle, it looks like their favorite Z. “Oh,” they said, “Cool sneakers. Ours! Take them off!” They hit me twice in the ribs with a rifle butt to make me move faster. My cash was taken, and my sneakers. Then they said: “Do you want to live? Run.” Well, I ran.

Overall I wasn’t afraid for myself. But for my sister – very much. She looks a lot like a boy. Like a teenager when she’s without a pregnant belly. It was very dangerous for her to walk around. It was necessary to dress like a homeless boy. One who doesn’t take care of himself. And even when she was pregnant, it was also dangerous. Russian soldiers once took our friend to the basement, because she didn’t make it home before the curfew. And there they forced her to fight with another pregnant woman. That girl was only 17, she was in her last month of pregnancy. Monsters… 

Once I was driving some Russian soldiers. With machine guns. They asked me if I really wanted my children to grow up and become f*ggots? Or for them to be raped by pedophiles in Europe? I answered that was the first time I was hearing of such things, and all the while I was thinking to myself that they were not the ones who could tell me how to live my life, especially taking into account their stereotypical thinking. 

To be honest, they are kind of crazy about LGBT. During the occupation I tried not to have contacts with the community. I once crossed paths with a gay friend of mine. He told me that LGBT people and their families were being helped to relocate. But I was somewhat afraid to take advantage of this offer. What if it was a trap?

My ex-boyfriend left almost immediately. Now he’s in Europe. We had a fight with him on the eve of his departure. He is one of those people, you know, who doesn’t care, if only there was peace. And it doesn’t matter who is in power. I told him: “Imagine that you are taken to the square in Grozny. And they say you’re gay. People would tear you to pieces, they kill people like us there.” And he told me something like: “Oh, that’s not completely true, before the war guys from Moscow came to our clubs to relax, they said it’s fun there”… He really pissed me off. He didn’t believe that Russia would attack. “And if they came,” he said, “we would live no worse than we had lived before.” It was exactly two days before the full-scale war that he and I broke up. And what do you know, he was the first to flee…

As I said, my sister and I are in Odesa now. I’m already thinking of going to the military commissariat, so that I don’t feel shame later. After the victory, what will I say? Why was I driving the Russian soldiers and running from them barefoot?… Especially since my sister gets humanitarian aid, I’m free to go. So I’ve already messaged our people who serve in the artillery, and medics. Maybe they will take me as a driver, it seems to me that this is my only useful skill. Who needs actors and singers now?