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  • Writer's pictureKyle Kvamme

From activist to refugee, a nonbinary Ukrainian shares their story

Updated: Feb 23

Two years later, support for LGBTIQ refugees from Ukraine remains crucial

Pictured: Zhenya (they/he) presenting at a conference in November 2023.

On February 24th, 2022, the world changed when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Most of the international community and many humanitarian organizations leaped into action as millions of Ukrainians had their lives uprooted. 

ORAM began providing short-term housing for LGBTIQ Ukrainians across Europe a few weeks after the invasion, thanks to its partnership with ORAM is still offering short-term housing, thanks to 

Two years later, the support for refugees from Ukraine has dramatically decreased. “When I came to Berlin, it seemed to me that I came too late,” said Zhenya, a nonbinary Ukrainian for whom ORAM currently provides longer-term housing in Berlin. “I think it was different before because there were so many Ukrainians at that time,” they shared. 

Zhenya is originally from Bakhmut, a city in Eastern Ukraine currently occupied by Russian forces. In 2019, Zhenya started their journey as an activist, establishing an LGBTIQ initiative called Donbas Queer. “We managed to register the organization and obtain funding to do community events and collaborate with [larger] institutes [to organize] training on human rights,” they shared. 

Later, Zhenya relocated to Kyiv and joined Kyiv Pride, which runs Ukraine’s largest LGBTIQ rights event.  In their role with Kyiv Pride, Zhenya managed a program to mobilize LGBTIQ Ukrainians in more rural communities. “We saw that we could change the [community's] situation by providing them (community groups) funding and places to have events and training,” they told ORAM.  

Amid managing this program for Kyiv Pride, Russia launched its full-scale invasion. Zhenya stayed in Ukraine during the first year of the invasion, first in the western part of the country for a few months and then returning to Kyiv. “After two or three months of the full-scale invasion, I kind of got used to it,” Zhenya explained about life in Kyiv after the war began.  

“Like most people, we are trying to keep up with this. As if it was normal to have a war in your country,” they said. “Situations for me that changed are when Russia started bombing the infrastructure and the blackouts...I was really scared,” they shared with tears in their eyes. “I couldn’t take it anymore.” 

Zhenya left Ukraine for Poland in November 2023. In addition to being an activist, they are also an artist and had an art residency for a month at Galeria Labirynt in Lublin. When the residency was complete, they came to Berlin to rebuild their life. “The reason I chose Berlin also as my destination is because I have friends around, so I know that I'm not alone,” they explained.  

Once in Berlin, they learned about ORAM from friend and ORAM’s Project Officer, Oliver Dougherty, whom Zhenya met in Ukraine. “I was trying to find out if there is any project or support for queer people from Ukraine, and he told me about all of this,” they said.  

ORAM provided Zhenya with housing for 15 days through our short-term housing project. “It was a good place to stay and in a pretty good area...easy to go anywhere,” they reflected on the experience. After their stay ended, an opportunity arose for Zhenya to move into a longer-term apartment provided by ORAM at no cost for six months. 

“I feel happy that I had this chance to get this support for half a year because it was really challenging for me to get the documents to register in Berlin as a refugee, for example,” they shared about the ease of mind having this apartment provided them. “Finding an apartment in Berlin is hard.” 

Discussing the future, Zhenya reminds us that the conflict is not over. “The Russian/Ukrainian conflict is not the top news now, but it doesn't mean like the war ended or people stop struggling,” they shared. “Support is very important...if people can donate, it can help.” 

Donate today to ensure ORAM can positively change the lives of LGBTIQ refugees from Ukraine.  

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