Zoya. Lesbian, 20 years old. Lives in the south of Odesa region. The interview took place in May 2023.

I will choose the name Zoya. I always liked it. I am already 20 years old, I am from a small town in the Odesa region. I like girls. To be more precise, one girl. I will not name my profession, I can only say that I work in the beauty industry. There’s always a demand for that, we always have a lot of clients. There were a lot of people on the last peaceful day too.

Basically, all my working days are similar to each other. I remember only the Friday that preceded all those events. In the evening my girlfriend came to see me, she is studying in Odesa to be a vet. We decided a long time ago that after completing her studies, she will look for a job here, and we will move in together. I have my own house, inherited from my mother.

Although it is difficult for me to call her my mother, she was drinking all the time, so I was taken to a family type orphanage at the age of six. I had six sisters and five brothers there, all without parents. That’s where I met my girlfriend.

You could say she was the only person whoI had a normal relationship with there. Because our “mother” constantly beat us and called us names. Many children ended up with scars. She beat us with everything she could get her hands on. Bullied and neglected us. There was also an animal shelter with a lot of dogs and about 20 cats. We cleaned up after them from morning till night. You come from school and go straight to work. Endless mess. Endless cleaning. No one took care of the animals, no one walked them. And “mother” would lay all day long and watch TV. Well, she found sponsors who helped us. She made us pray for them.

When my biological mother died, I inherited the house. Luckily, she hadn’t had enough time to sell it to buy alcohol. So my girlfriend and I began living there. We got two big dogs. “Mama” didn’t manage to kill our love for animals.

In the first days of the invasion, people were in panic, even though our town isn’t located directly near the front line. Still, they swept away the food, so for about a month and a half the shelves in stores were almost empty. Over time, things sorted themselves out. Territorial Defence units were created in our town, roadblocks were set up. My girlfriend and I prepared Molotov cocktails and made camouflage nets. But the authorities were mostly silent, they weren’t saying anything specific except that sabotage and reconnaissance groups could enter the region. Patrol units were walking around the town, but it seems to me that many people in our town were expecting and hoping for the Russian forces. But later the roadblocks were removed, the enemy sabotage units didn’t reach us.

None of the locals moved anywhere. This is not a big city where you can lock the apartment and move to Europe. There is a garden and a farm, and we also have dogs – they are mutts, a breed of bulldog and something else. I don’t know English, and I think there are enough jobseekers like me in Europe. And here, after all, is my home.

Now life seems to have settled down. Sometimes it seems that the war is not real, but then we see a sad neighbour whose son is on the frontlines, or a house with a broken roof that stood empty on the edge of the street for twenty years is now given to a family from the east. Four women are living there. We collected all kinds of utensils and things for them around the town.

I have a stable job, I live with my beloved. Unfortunately, we cannot live openly, Ukraine is quite a homophobic country. As for our town, the attitude towards LGBT here is neutral because no one advertises their ties to the community. Yes, of course, there is gossip and rumours, but you know how it is… On the one hand, we are just sisters to everyone, on the other hand, this is a small town where everyone knows each other. I hope we won’t be forced to move to a big city.

I hope that after the victory, the attitude towards LGBT people in Ukraine will change for the better. My girlfriend and I are thinking of adopting a girl from an orphanage after the victory. But the most important thing right now is to win this war.