Posts Tagged 'Kyiv'

Guardian angels

I met Oleg in April 2014 in Donetsk, east Ukraine, just before the war started. I worried. I couldn’t imagine how such a fabulously, flamboyantly queer person could survive if the militants manning home-made checkpoints, beating and locking people in basements and handing out ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ leaflets that read ‘We oppose the seizure of power by oligarchs, extremists, paedophiles and homosexuals!’ had their way in Donetsk (they did).

Oleg moved to Kyiv, where I bump into him pretty often. Sometimes his hair’s black, sometimes blond, sometimes green or purple. He’s always smiley and gorgeous and ambiguous. On Wednesday he got beaten up on his way home from a film screening before this weekend’s Kyiv Pride equality march.

The far-right groups who publicly encourage and lead such attacks also say they oppose the seizure of power by oligarchs, extremists, paedophiles and homosexuals. They claim to be fighting in east Ukraine against the Russian-backed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (‘We oppose the seizure of power by oligarchs, extremists, paedophiles and homosexuals!’) and even complain that their one-sided violent fight against LGBTQ in the rest of Ukraine is forcibly taking them away from this battle.

For example, the far-right National Corps is an organisation of self-appointed guardians of national security and morality – a bit like those self-appointed militants on checkpoints in Donetsk beating up people and giving out leaflets, really. A statement last year from National Corps about Kyiv Pride reads: ‘National Corps won’t permit disdain of the traditions of Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian family, or violation of their moral principles, just as our members didn’t allow Putin to impose his will upon Ukraine and enslave us.’

I am still wondering why all the National Corps members, and the brave guys who attacked two women and gentle, gorgeous Oleg in Kyiv on Wednesday, have not joined the Ukrainian army to fight the Putin-backed war in the east, which is, after all, ongoing.

More than 13,000 people have died so far in the war in the east. Around 4000 Ukrainians a year die in car accidents, 3,700 of TB, 8000 in alcohol related incidents.

Nobody in Ukraine has died because Oleg exists and is queer. Nobody ever got physically harmed as a result of the fact that someone else in Ukraine, or in the world, is L, or B, or G, or T, or Q.

What about National Corps’ ‘traditions of Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian family’? According to the Ministry for Social Policy, 10 percent of Ukrainian (heterosexual; same-sex is illegal) marriages end in divorce in their first year. In 2001, long before ‘gay propaganda’ was a thing in Ukraine, 17 percent of families were single-parent. In 2017, 70,000 children were orphans or removed from their parents’ guardianship (state statistics). A 2014 study found that 16 percent of women have experienced domestic violence.

Here’s a small story about prejudice. A friend just posted it on Facebook.

Sveta lives right on the breadline. She’s a single mother with two daughters; she lost her soldier son in the east Ukraine war (practically every mother I’ve met of sons missing or killed in the east Ukraine war is a single mother). Sveta went to pay her overdue utility bills, after being threatened with having her gas and electricity cut off. When she got to the cash desk she realised that somehow she’d left her rucksack open. The envelope with a large amount of money she really can’t afford to spend on bills, was gone.

When she got home to her flat she found the envelope and bills – which had her address on – stuck in the doorframe. All the money, every last note, was inside.

I went outside the building entrance and I’m sitting on the bench, feeling a bit dizzy. And then my neighbour Aunty Nina jumps out at me from the bushes. Why, she says, don’t you close the entrance to the building!!! I just had to kick out a couple of thieves standing outside your flat! Two teenagers, she says, can’t even tell what sex they were, one with green hair, one with purple …. Drug addicts, probably, screeches Aunty Nina.

That’s what they’re like, it turns out, guardian angels))))

And I’d thought….) they’re white and fluffy, with wings

rainbow arch kyivsm1

Kyiv, 2017


Kyiv is the new

There is a room upstairs in Kyiv railway station; an enclosure, separated from the rest of the hall by plywood, canvas and camouflage netting. Not many people know it’s there; few passengers make it up to the second floor of the south terminal, and even fewer to this dim corner.

On a Sunday evening the station is heaving with passengers, taxi touts, suitcases, paper cups of coffee, advertising, announcements, mobiles and headphones, hellos and goodbyes. The station was recently used in an advert for Apple watches, just one of several western brands and musicians and celebrities who are ‘discovering’ Kyiv as a cool and cheap place to film videos and drink cocktails and admire street life. I seem to be hearing everywhere: ‘Kyiv is hot, Kyiv is trending, Kyiv is the new Berlin’ – not war-torn, not dangerous, not dull but vibrant, creative, attractive.

It’s all these things. Kyiv is on an up as it’s been on a down, a glut as it’s been through famine, a time of creation as there have been times of destruction. Kyiv is full of gorgeous people drinking coffee and getting their beards barbered, opening cafes and clubs and clothing boutiques, being productive and stylish and pleased that their capital city is cool, is hot enough for the railway station to feature in an advert for a watch that can store 40 million songs.

And yet – there’s this room, upstairs in the corner of the railway station. Even on a busy Sunday evening it’s such a quiet, dingy place. There are carrymats spread on the plastic seating, and old but clean blankets and pillows, free tea and biscuits, an ancient TV showing some obscure film about some mediaeval war, all blood and broadswords and brutality. The temporary walls are hung with the shoulder patches and flags of Ukrainian army and volunteer battalions, patterned with symbols and slogans, signed with the call signs (‘Badger’, ‘Tatar’, ‘Blond’) of men playing at being boys, probably half of them dead by now.

These station enclosures – run by volunteers, without state assistance – are the closest Ukraine has to VIP waiting rooms for participants in the ATO (anti-terrorist operation), the ongoing war in the east. This Sunday night there are two young women volunteers, and four or five or six men sitting or lying around. One young man is fast asleep stretched out in the corner, and the volunteers hover around him, putting a pillow and blanket in reach but not wanting to wake him up: “We’ve seen what the reaction can be to being woken unexpectedly.”

The group of soldiers’ mothers I’m here with all turn to look at him and Sveta says, “Yes, we’ve seen it too”; and at last one of the volunteers gingerly drops a blanket over his legs and tiptoes away smiling as he never stirs, and all the mums look at this sleeping boy and I suppose every one of them is seeing her own lost child lying there, and hoping someone somewhere is putting a blanket over him to keep him warm.

Another soldier offers an apple to Sveta’s daughter Vlada. “It’s from Maxim, it’s from your brother,” Sveta says coaxingly, when the little girl doesn’t want to take it. “It’s come from the ATO, from Maxim. Say thank you.” Vlada puts her hands behind her back. She doesn’t remember her brother Maxim, who went missing in action in the ATO in August 2014, when she was a baby.

On Lilya’s phone is a picture of another little girl: Lilya’s granddaughter Polina, born two months after her father went missing in action in February 2015. Lilya doesn’t see Polina much, not since her daughter-in-law decided Sasha must be dead and met another man and moved to another city; moved on.

“I can’t understand her,” says Lilya. “No, I can understand. But I can’t accept it.” She shows me a picture of Sasha, fair-haired and blue-eyed as his daughter, called up at 18, vanished before he was 20. “It’s because she isn’t his mother. None of them.” And them is the whole world, the government and the security services and the army and the capital city, the hipsters the passengers the daughters-in-law the 40 million songs, all of them who don’t care enough.

She looks at the sleeping soldier with the blanket over his legs, and speaks softly. “For them it’s just one out of a million. But for us, it’s the only one.”

And no one cares enough. The shoulder patches, Donbas Diva Maria Tornado UPA, all those battalions, all those call signs, look so dingy and mediaeval and sad. The flags look like something out of some forgotten museum already. And it’s all so fucking dreary, it’s right in the centre of Kyiv and it is so far away from trending vibrant hipster Kyiv-is-the-new-Berlin.

station ATO

Whatever happened to EuroMaidan?

Heroes never die

heroes don't die

They just turn into this:



Central Kyiv, 8th August, after city authorities tried to remove what’s left of the EuroMaidan protest site.


Self-fulfilling prophecies

It’s incredible the way the conflict in Ukraine is creating its own reality as it goes along. If you say something enough times, it comes true. Maybe this is the logic of war.

People in East Ukraine over the last weeks were angry because they said the government in Kyiv had cancelled the 9 May holiday to mark Soviet victory in the Second World War. they repeated and repeated this rumour (which seems to have originated from Russian TV) and got more and more angry.

And now Kyiv has indeed cancelled the 9 May holiday because people in East Ukraine are so very angry.  Throughout the country, encouraged by Ukrainian TV, authorities have called off parades for fear of attacks and provocations.

Another self-fulfilling prophecy: People in East Ukraine got so angry because they said an army of ‘fascists’ and banderists’ from the rest of Ukraine was coming to invade their land. They said it so many times (encouraged by Russian TV) and were so convinced by what they said that they set up roadblocks, occupied buildings and picked up arms.

And now indeed there are huge volunteer brigades from Kyiv and the rest of the country, encouraged by Ukrainian TV, travelling to East Ukraine to tackle those ‘separatists’ and ‘terrorists’ who have set up roadblocks, occupied buildings, picked up arms…

It would be funny if it were not so tragic. Be very careful of what you say.




previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland

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