Zhenia. Gay. 23 years old. From the city of Odesa. The interview took place in October 2022.

Call me Zheka, though it’s not my name. I’m gay, I’m 23 years old. Now I am a bartender and a security guard in Zatoka. Zatoka was such a popular place for recreation – the sea, beaches and nightclubs. Different people used to go on holiday here, including Russians and Belarusians. And no one killed them. But for some reason they have now decided that they have the right to kill us.

There was always nightlife in Zatoka. The place wasn’t so loud during the day because people were getting some sleep but at night we partied. I’d only been in this profession for three years when I started working here, it was very good financially. But I also tried to learn more. I learned, for example, to juggle bottles. I created the cocktail menu. People applauded me.

I really loved my job. Getting to Zatoka was like getting to a party that lasted 3-4 months. Love was overflowing here. And no homophobia. Yes, there were always some people who loved to fight with each other. But no one had ever questioned why two guys would live in the same room.

And now it’s quiet here. Recreation centres are destroyed. Bulldozers are taking out debris where there were cottages just recently. Near the recreational centre “Kazka” there are huge cinder blocks, the road is closed. There’s literally no one here, only security guards keeping watch for looters trying to steal what’s left from the good old days. I don’t understand who told those missile gunners there are troops here in Zatoka. There is not even a single dog on the streets. One guard once told me we won’t be able to swim in the sea for a few years because of mines possibly breaking off.

Actually, the beginning of the full-scale war found me here. In winter the hotel owner asked for help with minor construction work. I agreed because firstly, there was no other job anyway, and secondly, I wanted to be on good terms with him. So I was sleeping after a hard day, and then they started firing at us!  At Hrybovka, at the bridge! All the guys left in a hurry, and the owner called me and asked me to stay. He was afraid of looters: he had several rides in his underground garage, a waterjet with a ride-on banana float attached to it.

And in May, the real chaos began. About 20 houses were destroyed then. There was an explosion in the middle of the night, I was thrown up in the air. I touched my face and it was sticky. There was blood. “That’s it,” I thought, “Zhenya, you’re no longer a handsome boy.” I immediately called the owner and said I was leaving. And he was like: “Do you really think it’s better here?” Long story short, he persuaded me to stay until the beginning of the season.

In summer, people began to come back one by one, some centres opened because they had their own indoor pools. Our hotel didn’t open, but I quickly found a job as a bartender. I thought things were starting to get better.

But it didn’t last for long. Somewhere in the middle of July they hit us again. And the shelling was so dense that it was not just glass that flew out of the windows, but the frames themselves! I was just spending the night in the hotel. I ran out – the whole street was on fire, there were explosions everywhere. About five houses, several recreation centres and hotels were destroyed. And the cafe where I was a bartender.

I was just incredibly lucky that I hadn’t been injured. I came to my senses standing in the middle of the street. The asphalt was littered with debris, the sky was red from fires. And a dog was squealing somewhere. And that was it. Zatoka was no more.

For now I’m still here but I have a feeling that nothing will get better in the next few years. So I’m thinking of going to Europe, there’s nothing to wait for here…