More than four months since Russia first invaded Ukraine, over 9.6 million refugees have since left Ukraine, and an estimated 8 million people had been displaced within the country by May 3.

Research by the Washington Post found that LGBT refugees are vulnerable to further suffering, with factors including xenophobia, anti-LGBT sentiment and exploitation that may affect the way they are treated by host countries. Queer people already face discrimination but are likely to undergo heightened risks of harassment, violence and protection gaps when it comes to refugee responses, according to the UN. 

Difficulty for Trans Men and Women

Trans women and trans men have faced difficulties while trying to leave Ukraine, with a shortage of medical services and supplies including necessary hormone therapy drugs and HIV medication. Trans women have also been turned back at the border due to personal identification documents failing to match their gender or physical examinations by border officials who have declared them to be men. 

When Russia first moved troops towards the border, The Kyiv City Council posted a map that indicated the nearest shelters that people could find in the event of bombings or assault. Shelters have since been open for stray animals, blind people and LGBTQI+ identifying people.

Grassroots organisation SAFEBOW, has helped more than 4,000 refugees from marginalised groups – including LGBTQI+, disabled, and elderly people and international students who were studying in Ukraine –  leave Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began. 

Homophobia Rife in Ukraine

Alliance Global representative Oksana Dobroskok, who runs three shelters that are specifically for queer people, spoke to PinkNews stating that homophobia is rife in Ukraine every day so there was a need for safe and supportive places. 

Dobroskok explained that the queer shelters were not just about food and drink provisions, “it’s providing some security. It’s a safe space.”

Cofounder of Fulcrum, Tymur Levchuk opened two shelters in Lviv and described the organisation as one that advocated inclusive policies, with a focus on ensuring there was adequate help and support available for LGBTQI+ people. In addition to accommodation, Fulcrum provides financial assistance and additional money for people needing to purchase medication. 

Levchuk told QUA in April that eighteen people were living with his partner and himself permanently, most of whom were “men or transgender people with a male marker in their passport who cannot leave Ukraine.” 

‘Queen of the Shelter’ Olya Onypko helps run an LGBTQI+ shelter in Ukraine where she interviews candidates to make sure that applicants are queer-identifying and will be able to fit in at the shelter. First volunteering at a shelter, Onypko told The New Yorker that people were coming in “terrified, tense, unable to breathe fully. Their jaws were clenched, diaphragms closed, shins sore and seizing up. So I led some workshops, worked on their bodies.” The shelter allows a maximum stay of two weeks. 

While homosexuality has been legal in Ukraine since 1991, same-sex partnerships are not recognised by law, and adoption for same-sex couples is illegal. Similarly, LGBTQI+ identifying people have been subject to discrimination and existing harassment prior to the military invasion of Russia and in many cases, there have been more “acute persecutory risks during the armed conflict and humanitarian response efforts” to LGBTQI+ and gender-diverse people. 

Other organisations in Ukraine that are currently aiding displaced LGBTQI+ Ukrainians during the crisis include Gay Alliance, Gender Z, Insight LGBT, Kyiv Pride, Legalife-Ukraine, Sphere and Teenergizer

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