#LesbianVisibilityWeek: The situation for lesbian women in and from Ukraine

Like all members of the LGBTI community who have either remained in Ukraine, or are on the move to a safer place, lesbians are facing specific challenges and needs. This Lesbian Visibility Week, we’re learning more.

Credit: EL*C

Dragana, can you tell us what the needs of lesbian communities still in Ukraine are?

In addition to the needs of the entire population within the country in terms of safety and essential goods, lesbian communities need spaces and routes that are inclusive and where they will not fear lesbophobic violence or discrimination, nor be compelled to re-closet themselves and their families.

What work is EL*C doing on the frontline?

On the front line, we started by setting up several safe houses at the Polish border and opened an emergency helpline, through which we provide information, organise pick-ups at the border crossings, and transfer people to one of the safe houses. We currently operate three of those, which can accommodate up to 25 persons and their pets, and where they can rest, access medical care if needed, and are supported in finding a long-term suitable relocation plan. We also coordinate with our partner organisations in other neighbouring countries to make sure that we cover Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova, and have re-granted to our partners in Romania and Moldova to support their efforts.

“We started by setting up several safe houses at the Polish border and opened an emergency helpline, through which we provide information, organise pick-ups at the border crossings, and transfer people to one of the safe houses.”

It should be stressed that EL*C has been helping everyone coming its way, but we are naturally primarily contacted by lesbians* and their families, which extends also to parents and grand-parents, or in a very typical dyke-dramatic way, to exes and exes’ partners and their own parents and children. It is heart-warming and empowering to see how our community sticks together and how we construct our own support systems when we cannot rely on the traditional family and societal structures.

Credit: EL*C

Have you identified specific needs of lesbians arriving from Ukraine to other countries?

Similarly to the lesbians internally displaced, lesbians arriving in other countries need to be protected while on the move and upon arrival, as they are often more isolated and therefore more exposed to abuse or trafficking for example. They also need to have effective access to their rights, free from lesbophobic discrimination and violence, and to be provided with safe and inclusive options, that recognise their specific needs.

“We have observed on numerous occasions the administrative and legal obstacles that couples and families may face, as they were not able to register in Ukraine and are therefore not legally recognised as such.”

Trans lesbians, alone or in a relationship face even more obstacles, from crossing the border — which they are most often denied, to obtaining temporary protection in the destination country with documents that do not match their gender identity, and ultimately to accessing legal gender recognition. We are in the process of supporting a trans woman in this regard, but it has required significant additional NGO mobilisation in the host country.

“Trans lesbians, alone or in a relationship face even more obstacles, from crossing the border — which they are most often denied, to obtaining temporary protection in the destination country.”

What can allies do to support lesbian groups from Ukraine?

Allies can help with donating or re-granting to the lesbian organisations inside Ukraine that are directly providing support to the communities, but also to all NGOs active at the borders.

How are EL*C responding to the needs of lesbians/activists who are vulnerable in Russia? Have you been asked to help?

We were contacted early on by lesbian Russian activists, asking for help to leave the country as the international sanctions started being enforced, and for information regarding their possibilities to seek asylum in Europe. They were especially worried as they were taking part in the violently suppressed anti-war protests. We put them in contact with specialised queer refugee NGOs in EU countries, but it has become rapidly very difficult to maintain communication with those still in Russia due to the social media clampdown imposed by Russia.

“Allies can help with donating or re-granting to the lesbian organisations inside Ukraine that are directly providing support to the communities, but also to all NGOs active at the borders.”

Olena Shevchenko, Dragana Todorovic and Alice Coffin. Credit: EL*C

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