A gay Ukrainian couple went to France on holiday. Overnight, it became their new home.
Nazar and Yuriv arrived in France on 11 February for a short holiday. They were staying with a friend in Paris, when they woke up to the horrifying news that Russia had invaded Ukraine.
They knew that tensions had been on the rise, but they never thought their home country – the place where they had built a life together – would end up under siege in such a brutal, sudden fashion.
“It was like something from a horror movie,” Nazar tells PinkNews. “I see the pictures of everything that has been destroyed and I can’t believe it.”
Overnight, they lost their home and their sense of security. They found themselves separated from friends and family, who are now living in a war zone. Nazar doesn’t even know if his parents are alive.
“I haven’t contacted [my parents] for more than three days because there is no internet, no electricity, no gas where they’re staying,” he says.
As well as fearing for their safety, Nazar is also worried that his parents are being duped by Russian propaganda.
“The last time I reached them on the phone, they told me that it’s not Russians who killed the people and shoot the civilians, it’s Ukrainians,” he explains. “It was just incredible that they were under the fire of Russian military and they were still believing the Russian propaganda. It’s a tragedy for me. I cannot believe it.”
It was the last time he spoke to them. “I was very irritated… but then they just disappeared from online. I don’t know whether they are alive or not or whether they’re just in some cellar without connection.”
Nazar has also been grappling with feelings of guilt that he and Yuriv are not in Ukraine to help fight their oppressors.
“We think that we should have stayed… but all of the friends we’ve discussed this with – who are still in Ukraine – have said we shouldn’t feel guilty because we don’t have any military experience,” he says.
Nazar’s sister once threatened to shoot him if he didn’t ‘change’ his sexuality
Before the war, life in Ukraine wasn’t always easy for Nazar, 32, and Yuriv, 26. They’ve been together for six years, but in that time, they’ve faced oppressive attitudes from family because of their relationship. Nazar’s sister once threatened to shoot him unless he “changed”.
Their life in Ukraine wasn’t ideal, but they had reason to be hopeful for the future. They had considered moving to another European country to start anew, but they were heartened to see things gradually improving for LGBT+ people in Ukraine. Attitudes were becoming more progressive among younger Ukrainians and in big cities.
War has swept LGBT+ rights off the agenda in Ukraine. Nazar and Yuriv are pragmatic about this: equality is fundamental, but LGBT+ people can’t have any freedom when they’re at war – especially when the aggressor is Russia, where LGBT+ people face oppression and violence.
“War is war, and people who fight from the other side have no mercy. They do not follow any kind of rules, they can target civilians, peaceful people,” Nazar says.
The idea of a pro-Russian government in Ukraine terrifies him. He says such an eventuality won’t happen – the people of Ukraine are fighting back fiercely, and he believes they will win. Still, if the war doesn’t go well, it would mean Nazar and his boyfriend would likely never return to Ukraine.
“The slightest possibility of a pro-Russian government is so atrocious, so horrible, that I wouldn’t be staying in Ukraine if it is under a pro-Russian government. I know about the atrocities in Chechnya, I know about the attitudes toward LGBT+ people,” he says.
You should know what’s really happening in Ukraine. All of these lies can be refuted by very simple fact checking.
For now, Nazar and Yuriv will be staying in France. They’ve been “surprised” that they’ve been referred to as a couple throughout the process of applying for asylum – it’s the first time in their lives they’ve been treated the same as mixed-gender couples.
“I cannot plan for what will happen in a year or two years,” Nazar says. “For me and for my partner it’s important for us to be in a safe place while war is going on in Ukraine.”
Nazar and Yuriv are determined to help the Ukrainian cause from abroad in any way they can. Nazar is currently exploring ways he can counter Russian propaganda about the war. The most important thing people can do is to listen to Ukrainians, he says.
“Don’t be infected by this propaganda,” he says. “You should know what’s really happening in Ukraine. All of these lies can be refuted by very simple fact checking.”
The situation is devastating for Ukrainian people like Nazar and Yuriv, but they’ve been amazed to see the huge swell of support for their country.
“I’m very grateful to everybody from all over the world for the support they’re showing towards Ukraine,” Nazar says. “For me and for my country it’s very important. The solidarity shows us that people can do something good together, not just destroy countries like our neighbour decided to, but they can be friendly, they can be kind to other people, they can cherish this feeling of solidarity. I think it shows that Ukraine will win.”
Russia has faced international condemnation and sanctions since it launched its full-scale invasion in Ukraine just two weeks ago. More than two million people have fled and in excess of 400 civilian deaths have been reported.