We are a family: LGBTI couples in Ukraine 

“I like our garden,” says Stasya, smiling, looking at her wife, Alina, who is sitting nearby. “There are a lot of flowers there, and when Alina goes for her service early in the morning, she often leaves some flowers and little notes for me near our bed.”  

They are both LGBTI activists from the Ukrainian frontline city of Kharkiv. Stasya works in an NGO, and Alina serves in the army. 

“We met after the start of the full-scale invasion”, tells Alina, “I was deployed in the Kharkiv region with my unit and Stasya at that time left the city because Kharkiv was heavily shelled and it was too dangerous to stay. For a month we exchanged messages on social media, then she came to me for a few days and after two more weeks, she moved back to Kharkiv so we could see each other more often. That was the decisive moment – I realised that it was she, the woman I love”.  

Photo by Christina Pashkina for KhakrivPride

During the KharkivPride, in the hot summer of 2023, they got married, except that it wasn’t a real marriage but a performance. The photos of the happy couple and their friends were all over the media even before the “wedding” was over. They are a family, living together, sharing their thoughts and worries, and planning their future as far as it is possible. The performance was a visualisation of the major dream of the two to be actually married.  

For now, from the legal perspective, they have no relations to one another and no rights that a married couple would have. Being officially married for Stasya and Alina would mean having rights to get social benefits available for families, having inheritance rights, the right to make medical decisions regarding each other, filing a search for a partner who went missing during military actions, etc.  

“Having social protection is important. We perform public duties just as everyone else, but the state gives us rights selectively. If something happens and Alina is admitted to a hospital, I will not be allowed to visit her or vice versa. Recently I often think of death, and what is going to happen if one of us dies” says Stasya. 

“There are also purely practical issues”, adds Alina, “for example, military personnel are provided with housing, the size of housing depends on the composition of the family. If you are single, you can count on a one-room apartment for one person at best. The situation is different for spouses and people with children. Since legally Stasya and I are not being as a family, we are automatically deprived of this right, which I deserved as a soldier”. 

If allowed, civil partnerships and more generally marital equality, would give same-sex couples the desired social protection. The statistics of LGBTI couples living together are not known, since many still prefer not to expose themselves due to safety risks. However, the overall situation has been changing, and in recent years quicker than ever.  

Photo by Lana Yanovska

“I would say that more LGBTI people were becoming open in recent years. It started with the COVID and it lasts until now. For example, I saw two adult persons coming to the LGBTI hub, were I worked”, says Stasya, “This was right after the COVID restrictions were a bit eased, and they started visiting quite regularly. I asked them “why?” and they said that they were tired of hiding, any one of them could died at any moment since there was a pandemic, so they decided to be themselves. I think a lot of people now have quite the same motivation still – you don’t know what the future will bring you, so you take as much as you can from your life, especially if it is related to people you love”. 

Society on the other hand also becomes more perceptive and open to accepting the idea of equal rights. According to the statistics since 2016 the number of people who support full equality grew from 33% to almost 64%, and the number of those who believe that the rights of LGBTI people should be somehow restricted diminished from 45% to 25%.  

Stasya experienced this change herself when organising the recent KharkivPride. They did face a lot of hate, however, there was also a lot of open support. “A woman with a child recognised me and approached me saying that she was fighting for us in comments on social media and engaged her family members to do the same”. “Moreover, continues Stasya, “After the full-scale invasion, more people started to dig deeper, look for answers to understand what is happening and they become more aware of what is equality, diversity and how the whole Ukrainian society can benefit from it”. 

This change didn’t happen overnight, however. LGBTI movement has a long history in Ukraine. From the first Pride in Kyiv, attacked by conservatives and hardly protected by police. To annual Pride months that took place in different cities in Ukraine.  

Kharkiv Pride, one of the organisers of which was Stasya took place despite all the odds during 2 years since the start of the full-scale invasion. Kharkiv is only 30 kilometres from the Russian border and it gets actively shelled. The air alert system is not useful there since it takes only 40 seconds for a missile to reach a city centre. Therefore prides took place in a metro. They were still attended by quite a lot of people.  

“Soldiers protect our state border and we with Kharkiv Pride protect the border of human rights and equality, since there are no human rights there, behind Ukraine’s border with Russia anymore. We have to protect our way of life and our future and we are doing it together with Alina”, says Stasya proudly. 

With ideas of equality becoming more adopted among wider society and LGBTI people more visible, the government also starts to react. The law currently discussed in civil society and by policymakers suggests a registered civil partnership that would be available for everyone including LGBTI couples. That would mean that same-sex couples could obtain more rights and more protection than they have now and this would also be yet another step towards marital equality. This would give Alina and Stasya a safe harbour where they could plan their life together and hope for a more secure future.  

The initiatives already got support from some MPs and ministries and the whole idea has become increasingly more acceptable by the society. However, there is still a lot to be done on the way of achieving equality. 

“We need to walk this way by ourselves, as a society, says Stasya. For now, we are building our own future. Of course, now there is a lot of attention to Ukraine, and many states discuss war and its impact and ways to help Ukraine, which is very important now.  

“However, adds Alina, “in addition to that we should realise that the potential to change for a better future lies with people, since even according to our Constitution people are the source of power. We would call the international community to express solidarity, to walk beside Ukrainian society on our way to a better future, to support civil society organisations, so they would have tools and resources to make change. But we realise that we are the ones who are responsible for our own future and we are ready to work hard for it”.  

The fight for rights for LGBTI people happens amid a more tangible and deadly fight for the existence of the country where Alina and Stasya are living.  

“What is important says Stasya, is the support, not only to LGBTI people, but to Ukraine in general. We all now work for the same goal – to preserve our country, and independence and rebuild everything that was destroyed by Russia. There will be no human rights here if Ukraine does not thrive, there will be no us”.  

Додаткова інформація

Ensure the prompt adoption of legislation introducing registered civil partnerships of
two people of any gender and gradually implement all necessary legislative changes
to ensure that LGBTI couples have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.