United in Courage: Sonic

United in Courage is a series of interviews conducted primarily in April 2023 by the Feminists of Kyiv team, featuring members of feminist and LGBTQ+ communities currently serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

We invited the participants of the series to tell us about their lives before the full-scale russian invasion and what motivated them to join the army. We also discussed the different experiences and challenges they face in the Armed Forces, as well as the sources of support that sustain their resilience in the ongoing war.

We hope that this series of interviews will mark the beginning of an anthology in which Feminists of Kyiv media will amplify the voices of women and queer people who are defending Ukraine. You can support us in this effort.

Editor and translator: Bozhena Makovska
Visual artist: 
Michael Tulsky

My call sign is Sonic. I am a 22 years old cis heterosexual woman and intersectional feminist. Before the full-scale invasion, I was involved in feminist and vegan activism. I conducted lectures in schools for girls on topics such as personal boundaries, security, and feminism. Additionally, I organised feminist film screenings and participated in protests. I also contributed to cooking vegan meals for those in need and initiated food distributions in my hometown in the East of Ukraine.

I wouldn’t say that these were big and impressive projects, although I wanted to develop in this direction. I was considering working in public service, contributing to the creation of shelters in Ukraine, or potentially becoming a local council member. I used to hitchhike a lot. I visited youth centres and discussed their approaches of combating gender-based violence and providing assistance to vulnerable groups, including homeless people. I dreamed of gaining as much expertise as possible and implementing it all at the local level, because for me, the development of the East and South is an idée fixe. I was also planning to join the army anyway.

In 2020, I enrolled in the military training department in Rivne, studying to become a mechanised platoon commander. I had thought that if I graduated from the military faculty and obtained an officer’s rank, I would go to the Joint Forces Operation, where I would be fighting in Donbas and reclaiming my home.

In 2021, I already attempted to join the army. I went to the military recruitment office and said that I couldn’t live like this anymore while someone else was fighting for our independence. This realisation had been growing within me since 2014; it seemed pointless to study while the country was at war. However, at that time, I was advised to wait, complete my military education, and make it easier for me, as a woman, to be truly involved in the war. I agreed, but with the beginning of the full-scale war, waiting became unbearable.

I joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in March 2022, almost a month after the start of the large-scale russian offensive, because no one wanted to take me anywhere. At that time, I was a final-year cadet at the military department and a student at Ostroh Academy, majoring in political science. I was able to complete both my studies remotely, thanks to a secondment from my military unit.

Since I was mobilised on the 23rd of March and graduated in July, I now have only a certificate of completion of the military faculty, but no rank. If I had been mobilised in the autumn, I would be a junior lieutenant now. However, at the time of mobilisation, I did not think about whether I would complete my education. It was important for me to stand up for the defence of my country.

People who studied at the military department are commonly called ‘blazers’ in the army. The majority of them lack battle experience and cannot always be effective combat commanders. Possessing an officer’s ID card wouldn’t have saved me from discrimination. Female officers are typically not appointed to roles directly involved in combat operations. Usually, they work in headquarters, in positions demanding minimal responsibility and logic, and even at the company level, they handle document-related tasks.

Any position in the Ukrainian army is inherently difficult. The crucial factor is that a person has the necessary competencies and the willingness to work in such conditions. When a battalion advances to the front, the headquarters is situated a certain number of kilometres away from the actual contact line. I am currently in the Bakhmut area. We have 18 women snipers in our battalion, and they are all on duty at the headquarters or in the permanent deployment point — because that’s what the order is. However, they are still exposed to danger. Sometimes, you may find yourself sitting in a basement when an S-300 flies in. The frontline is still the frontline, so claiming that commanders aim to protect someone is hypocritical.

This is hypocritical for several reasons. For example, I am often told that I am too young. At the same time, guys aged 18-19 are being killed. We have a woman, an experienced cartographer, but she holds a soldier’s rank. At the headquarters, instead of doing her job, she deals with paperwork and makes coffee for the commanders. It literally works like in the dumbest stereotype. Situations like this occur daily, and the struggle against such individuals persists every day. It’s important to understand that there are a lot of men working in the headquarters. They genuinely want to serve there — it’s true. All women serve voluntarily, and they are not here for what the army of the current model offers them.

The majority of the Armed Forces consist of infantry units, and my unit is also infantry. When we’re not on the frontline, we call it ‘drying off’, which allows time for both rest and self-education. People engage in training, participate in patrols and combat missions, and then take a break. The headquarters, on the other hand, operates continuously, especially now, when there are a lot of losses and a huge amount of lost property. People work without days off. Therefore, appointing women to headquarters positions is not about caring; rather, it is about distrust and the reluctance of male commanders to accept that women are fully capable of performing the same tasks as they do.

When it comes to the path of women in the military, there are very different stories. It’s not that there are no women on the front lines; they are present. However, to secure a combat position and eventually make it to the front, you need to show the highest performance in training, to impress everyone with your skills. Only then will trust be placed in you.

I had to lie when I was mobilised. When I signed up for the Territorial Defence, it was just a list of volunteers. Initially, I wrote that I was a cadet of the military department. But when I got the call and came to the formation, everything was very chaotic. No one checked anything — neither documents nor phones. They began to give us positions, for example: ‘You are a clerk’. I realised I needed to play the deception card and claim to be an officer. I understood that if I told the truth, I would be like all the other girls without military education: either a clerk, a cook, or a nurse. I was assigned to the position of a rifleman.

It was a Kyiv-based territorial defence, and when the order came that the TDF was now operating nationwide, our unit was relocated from Kyiv to another location. There we were divided again. I recall a certain major reading out surnames, and, for some reason, all the women ended up in positions at the medical unit and field kitchens. I interrupted him and said: ‘On what basis do you have no women in combat positions?’ He replied in a rude manner that he was just reading out the list and didn’t know who was a man and who was a woman. I was not on the list at all. In such a scenario, you either have to remind yourself or go back to where you came from. I chose the second option. I got into the car returning to the deployment point in Kyiv, and we drove away. I probably could have just gone home, but I didn’t want to.

I enlisted in the military unit as an officer, but informed the commander that I was still in the midst of my studies. I took a secondment to my military department, returned, and that was the end of it. I retained my position as a rifleman, which I got by deception.

Only volunteers fought in the spring and summer. During company briefings, we were asked who was willing to go to the front line, and I, along with a few others, raised our hands. But they laughed at me. Later on, I raised my hand on several occasions. I was then dispatched to a battalion situated in the village of Berestove, above Soledar. I spoke to the commander and said that I did not want to sit in the headquarters, and I needed guarantees that I would take part in combat operations. He asked in great detail about my knowledge, skills, and competences. It all sounded like it was some elite unit, and we’ll see if there’s a place for me there. But what happened was that we spent a long time in the rear. Yes, we patrolled, we worked as air defence groups. But I didn’t gain any combat experience.

Everything changed when I managed to transfer to another territorial defence battalion. We found common ground with the company commander, and as a result, he appointed me to the position of squad leader, commander of an infantry fighting vehicle that I studied at the military department. However, when we went to the east, and we are still here, it occurred that the first group left, the second group left, and I remained on patrols under fire, but not in Bakhmut itself. I asked: What’s wrong? And received the answer that the problem was not in me; it just so happened. At the battalion level, the commander asked me who I was and what I was doing here. His first phrase when he saw me was: ‘Who recruited you, fuckheads?’ Further, the chief of staff said that I reminded him of his daughter, who is also about 20 years old, and that I would never go anywhere with this battalion. Now, I am actively seeking another place for a transfer.

My desire to serve in the infantry is driven by the fact that I want to be on the front line. This is what the best of people do; it’s something one cannot help but undertake given the current circumstances. And this is a reality the greater part of society will need to confront. I believe every Ukrainian should undergo such an experience to grasp the context of the future. For instance, the processes of state-building that one can contribute to by working in NGOs, political analytics, civic activism, or journalism; t’s an experience that enables a profound understanding of the majority of people. This is the first reason.

Another reason is that, after our victory, as we join Prides and Feminist marches on March 8th, there will be veterans who will inquire where we were while they were defending our freedom. The thing is, I don’t want my freedom to be achieved at the expense of someone else’s, apart from my own. I also don’t want women in a nation that has endured war to be excluded from public discourse because they were not actively involved. They didn’t participate not because they didn’t want to but because they had no other choice. Because men were the ones who forced them into the headquarters.

Of course, it is possible to benefit the state in other ways. My point is that our predecessors fought for the rights of women to be in the army in the positions that are now available to us, for example, combat medics. Similarly, my mission may be to pave the way for women who will join the Armed Forces after me.

After more than a year of service, I realised that this fight is very important. However, the saddest thing is that with such a mission, it is not enough to be yourself and do a meaningful job. I’m unsure of the origin of this expression, but it is 100% true: a man in the army is considered normal until he proves otherwise, and a woman is considered abnormal until she proves otherwise.

War is the place where you can die or make a significant mistake, not due to incompetence, but merely because luck is not on your side. It’s not an art, a science, or a craft where you can show remarkable results solely through your effort and work. Preparing for the current circumstances, for the horrors that the russians are planning, is impossible. My biggest interest at the moment is to be of service and assistance, not to fight the patriarchy. Which is why I occasionally consider joining the military medical service to be useful where I will not be disturbed. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this before.

From a legal standpoint, or on paper, women in the army have absolutely the same opportunities to serve as men. Our regulations do not include gender divisions; they treat individuals as combat units. The Ukrainian army is a scaled-down reflection of society because the vast majority are volunteers without prior military experience before the full-scale invasion. Abuse of authority, sexism, and so forth, are not perpetuated solely by those who served in the Soviet army. Instead, these actions are carried out by new officers and soldiers who embrace the system to gain acceptance within it.

I see education as a method of addressing this issue: educating personnel at all levels of the defence sector with a particular emphasis on gender equality. It is also crucial to establish a feedback system, enabling people to report problems like mine. If the command collectively shares these values, advocates for equality, and receives feedback, it will be an effective mechanism for influencing the decisions of individuals.

On the one hand, I don’t want women to go through all that. I wouldn’t wish anyone to experience discrimination or feel unwanted in the army. But I understand that the only way to resist is to become part of the patriarchal structures. The more people with a feminist perspective, women, nonbinary people, those who are discriminated by society, join the army, the quicker and more it will change. This is the only way.

As for creating separate women’s battalions, I think it’s a great idea. Probably, before I joined the Armed Forces, I would have said that it could separate us, create prejudice against women, as if we couldn’t fight alongside men. Now, I would certainly join such a battalion. It would suit me to think about how good I am as a fighter and improve my skills in modern combat systems. Women in the army should focus not on fighting sexism but on fighting the enemy.

Before the full-scale invasion, I often mentioned that you need to be conscious of your privileges. You have to understand that in some societies women don’t have basic rights. However, I’m not a fan of a gradual approach. I believe that any activist agenda should advance in its most contemporary form across all societies. Even in a society where a woman lives dependent on a husband she hasn’t chosen herself.

But now, considering the war, I wish for one thing: for the feminist community, and the world community in general, to comprehend that our struggle is not local. It is not a fight between Ukrainians and some neighbours who look like Ukrainians. No. It is a struggle between freedom and oppression. It is a battle between cannibalistic orders and humanistic values. It is a war waged by a totalitarian society against democracy.

I wouldn’t want people to read this text and think that they should cease supporting us because their donations will go not to me but to some man who said that women have no place at the front. As our victory approaches, so does the freedom of all women. The closer our victory is, the less suffering civilians, especially mothers, will have to endure. The longer this war goes on, the more women who either went to fight, or left Ukraine, or stayed, endangering themselves and their children, will suffer.

This war is a femicide. I want the global community to know that what is happening now concerns all countries, all people. Although, of course, there will never be such a level of perception. Similar to how we were able to not react to conflicts occurring in distant lands in the past. Now, somewhere far away, people are not responding to the ongoing war. But having lived through the experience of war, we develop a stronger sense of solidarity with the victims of conflicts worldwide.

The more people contribute to our victory, send aid, come out to protest, promote the message that Ukraine needs to be supported, Ukraine needs to be armed, Ukraine needs help to defeat russia, in their local communities, at work, in public services, in their home countries, the sooner the suffering of millions of Ukrainian women and girls will end.

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United in Courage: Daria

United in Courage is a series of interviews conducted and translated primarily in April 2023 by the Feminists of Kyiv team, featuring members of feminist and LGBTQ+ communities currently serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

We invited the participants of the series to tell us about their lives before the full-scale russian invasion and what motivated them to join the army. We also discussed the different experiences and challenges they face in the Armed Forces, as well as the sources of support that sustain their resilience in the ongoing war.

We hope that this series of interviews will mark the beginning of an anthology in which Feminists of Kyiv media will amplify the voices of women and queer people who are defending Ukraine. You can support us in this effort.

Editor and translator: Bozhena Makovska
Visual artist:
Michael Tulsky

My name is Daria, I am 23 years old, I am from Kharkiv and Sievierodonetsk. These cities, both eastern ones, have shaped my identity, and in many ways influenced my decision to go to war. Before the full-scale invasion began, I worked as a journalist and was also involved in activism, particularly LGBTQ+. I used to identify myself as bisexual and gender free. Now I’m more inclined to say that I am a pansexual person. Here, at war, it is difficult to reflect on my gender identity, so now I perceive myself simply as a human being. In general, I don’t want to think about myself in any of these concepts, categories, or labels. I just want to be.

My civic activism started in 2018, a year after I moved to Kharkiv. It was a revelation for me to discover the existence of a community centre for LGBTQ+ people in the city — the Kharkiv Pride Hub, which unfortunately closed its doors. What they were doing for the Kharkiv community was very important to me as a young activist. Then, at the age of 18, I was just discovering the movement for the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people at the level of civic position and self-awareness. I volunteered for the first time at the Women’s Solidarity Weeks, and for the first time I went to the Pride in Kharkiv in 2019.

People often ask me why I joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, given that war is an aggressive environment. Looking back on my life, I can say that my activism and work as a correspondent hardened me; I was unconsciously preparing for war on various levels.

I grew up and spent a significant part of my life in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region. Now the city is under russian occupation for the second time. I didn’t seem to have the option of running away again.

Rereading the diaries I wrote a month before the full-scale invasion, I see that even then I had thoughts about serving in the Armed Forces. The tension felt in society during the escalation was affecting me. I thought that with just a little more time, I would sign the contract, but the decisive trigger was russia’s physical invasion. It was not a difficult decision for me. I understood that the sooner my friends and I go, the sooner it will be over. And if we wait for someone to stop the russians instead of us, we might never see it happen.

On 24 February 2022, I was in an apartment in Kharkiv with a person who did not live in the east and for whom it was the first day of the war. I woke up to a strange knocking and said to her: “Did you hear that knock?” She replied that it was just an old balcony. But it was not a balcony. It was the same balcony I had at home in 2014. I immediately realised what was happening, and for a second, I had a flash of despair. I wanted to sit and cry, but I decided to pull myself together and do something instead. After a couple of days, I got used to this idea, looked for options, and my friend, also a representative of the LGBTQ+ community, and I went to the Kharkiv Defence Headquarters. Later, our paths diverged, but we are both in the ranks of the Armed Forces now.

In the beginning, the Defence Headquarters was the official coordination centre for volunteers. We had weapons, support for volunteers in the form of uniforms and food. Later, the headquarters turned into the Territorial Defence Forces, and then the unit joined the Main Directorate of Intelligence. Now I serve in a different unit, but it so happened that I served in the Territorial Defence Forces, the Armed Forces, and the GUR. The service experience can be very different depending on the unit you will be assigned to. Therefore, I would advise everyone who sees themselves in the Armed Forces and plans to serve, to carefully consider the issue of choosing a unit. It affects everything from material support to mental state.

There is a problem of sexism in the military, it also largely depends on the unit. I don’t want society to put on rose-coloured glasses and assume that women and queer people already feel good in the army.

When I got to the Territorial Defence Forces, they asked me what I wanted to do. I replied that I know a little about unmanned aerial vehicles, I just need some basic practical training; I am engaged in self-education and will learn everything. And the commander said to me: “Why bring a sin on my soul, let’s make you a cook.” I had to fight for self-perception and prove my qualifications.

There are the same inappropriate statements that can be heard from different commanders. For example: “You look a lot like my daughter, so you will not go to the front line. I will do everything to ensure that you never find yourself at 0.” I’ve heard this before, both in my own direction and in the direction of other women. But I’ve never heard anyone say to a man: “Listen, boy, you look like my son, so you’re not going anywhere. You will be a secretary at the headquarters”. It’s an overused phrase, but women in the army really have to give 200% to be perceived as equal to men.

There are also various issues related to everyday life. This is what you need to prepare yourself for. You won’t always have the opportunity to solve some of your problems or simply wash yourself. I generally like to play this “survival” game, and sometimes I get pleasant impressions from it. Although, perhaps, this is a protective function of the psyche — to find something pleasant in attempts to escape an uncomfortable situation.

I am the only person in my unit who is not a cis man. I can’t say that I feel completely comfortable, but I have comrades I can trust. They’ve read my articles, they know that I am a feminist, and they respect that. I consider myself lucky to have adequate people by my side. In my previous unit, there was a situation when I received verbal threats because of my views. It was a personal dislike of me, and fortunately, it did not escalate into bullying.

There are different people in the army and you don’t have to like everyone. The main thing is that it does not turn into conflicts that can cause danger to other people. After all, it is a war and you are accountable for each other. The manner of reacting depends on the specific circumstances of each situation — there is no singular algorithm for action. But I think it is important that a few people close to you know about the conflicts that occur due to hatred or the non-acceptance of views.

I enjoy remembering how, when the invasion started, in my previous unit, a guy came up to me. I didn’t know who he was, but he shook my hand and said: “I’m sorry that we have been messing up your office.” It was related to the attacks on the office of Pride Hub and the people who were in it. I won’t attribute it to any organisation, but it was obviously some kind of right-wing radical movement. He also said, “I see that you are here, next to me, serving in this war. I respect you for that.” I was very pleased to hear this. It gave me hope that we will gradually move away from hostilities in society.

Every month I learn about another friend of mine who comes from the leftist, feminist or LGBTQ+ community and has now joined the Armed Forces. So I think that the representation of people with left-wing views in the Ukrainian army is a matter of time. I understand that this war is going to last for a very long time, and one way or another, it will affect everyone. This worries me because if all my friends go to war, there will be no one to continue our joint projects.

For example, Bilkis: last spring, they moved from Kharkiv to Lviv and were intensively involved in helping women, nonbinary and trans people in need. Now they organise pickets, cultural and educational events. I look at the activism of my friends and I am convinced that I really have something to defend. It is a big motivation to know that they are continuing our great cause.

But the war should be our common issue, not of some group of people or a region. Until we pay enough attention to the war, it will not end. Everyone should actively contribute to the victory. If it is done as part of organised structures, the result will be more noticeable.

Often, I don’t have the opportunity or the energy after a hard day to adequately represent myself on social media as a person with left-wing views or as a member of the LGBTQ+ community fighting for Ukraine. However, representation is very important. It is necessary to move away from the stereotypical notion of a military person as a burly man. Perhaps it used to be that way, but not anymore. Personally, it was crucial for me to find individuals whom I could consider role models. I believe this is what many of those who are hesitant to join the Armed Forces lack. When you see soldiers who look like you, you realise that you can do it too.

People are very tired now, and they can react harshly to things that are new to them. You should always consider this context when you do something. As well as not standing aside, it is important not to do something “about us without us”. For example, I am waiting for someone to raise the topic of channelling donations, because there are urgent needs, such as medicine, vehicles for combat units, night vision devices, and other consumables. I don’t want to count someone’s money, but it makes me cringe when I see people splurging and buying expensive branded boots for the military. It is important to talk about the expediency of using funds, and I think we should be ready for this conversation.

I often see in the media that the international community considers the war in Ukraine to be some kind of “quarrel between two fraternal nations”. This opinion is completely out of the context of the history of our centuries-long oppression by russia, the soviet union and the russian empire. This war has been going on not for a year, not for 9 years, but for much longer. And this is a very clear situation, so if you look at the history, there will be no desire to “reconcile” us. There have already been enough cases of violation of all agreements by the russian federation to understand that such methods do not work, and that such a conditional “peace” will only satisfy the interests of the aggressor.

The russians are taking all Ukrainian books out of the occupied territories and bringing in books in russian instead. This is also happening in my hometown. This leads us to the question of whether the issue is really about the territories, or whether it is about the identity of Ukrainians and russia’s attempts to erase this identity. Ukraine, and Sievierodonetsk in particular, is my home. I grew up here, I became myself here, and I will defend it.

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Feminist Lodge

26 January 2023
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translators: Bozhena Makovska, Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

Feminist Lodge was founded in 2017 as a grassroots cultural and educational initiative by feminists, with the aim of supporting young women in a peer-to-peer format.

Nastya: When I was in 10th or 11th grade, I discovered feminism and it became my optics in life. At that time, “feminist” was an insulting word. I wanted to have some kind of supportive environment so that we could get together and do something cool. That’s how the Feminist Lodge was born. My friends and I came up with the project and the name for it when we wanted to give a lecture on feminism at the university. We felt the need to share what we were interested in.

Nastya. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Lesia: I met Nastya at the youth camp for feminists. I remember the motivation I had back then to create a grassroots initiative. Most of the events in Ukraine that claimed to be feminist – whether cultural, educational or any other kind – were disrupted by groups of right-wing radicals. I wanted to resist this, to fight back, to show that it won’t stop such events from happening, and in fact, there will be more of them. I wanted to engage in activism, and an opportunity presented itself when I found a circle of like-minded people.

Nastya: In 2018-2019, we travelled all over Ukraine, organising a series of screenings featuring feminist short films. It’s a great way to introduce people to feminism because, in just an hour and a half, you can showcase numerous different experiences and discuss them. We visited Kharkiv, Zhytomyr, Kremenchuk, Zaporizhzhia, and held screenings in Kyiv three times. It was an extremely exhausting project. That’s when we realised that we didn’t want to burn out. Currently, we’re considering registering an organisation to simplify our communication with donors, but we don’t want to turn our activism into a job.

Lesia. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Nastya: We take extra care to ensure the safety of everyone attending our events. We have a protocol in place where we work closely with the police. While it may not align with our ideological beliefs, the safety of our attendees takes precedence over the desire to stay “true”. This algorithm worked well during the solidarity rally with Polish women, where we were able to avoid clashes with opponents who supported the ban on abortions in Poland. This is also a matter of education; those guys would not have been dragged there to “beat feminists” if they had a basic understanding of what abortion is. That’s why it’s important for us to promote feminism and discuss our activities, even now, when humanitarian work has become such a significant part of our lives.

The war has changed our focus to the basic needs of women and girls, who are the most vulnerable in a humanitarian crisis. Survival becomes a priority when basic needs are not met.

Zhenia: I joined the initiative during the full-scale war. It was the war that motivated me to take action and help people. That was such an eye-opening experience for me. You may know that the world is malfunctioning and that the system is not working properly. But when you experience war personally, you realise that the system is not just dysfunctional. It is actually designed to work this way. Wars are not some extraordinary situations; there are many injustices and oppressions in life in general. It was painful for me to come to this realisation.

Zhenia. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Lesia: When the full-scale invasion began, we were shocked for the first few weeks. But then we realised that we had certain opportunities and contacts within the feminist community and that we could apply for grants and help people. Initially, we planned to collect general supplies such as medicine and hygiene products for women. We sent parcels to Kherson, Kramatorsk, and other cities. And then a post about us was published in a group, and we started receiving numerous individual requests. We decided to try and fulfil them, so we asked volunteers for help.

Zhenia: These parcels often end up in rural areas where IDPs or simply women who have been struggling to make ends meet live. Humanitarian aid typically doesn’t reach such places, so I think it’s really great that we’re able to reach out to those people.

Nastya: Big foundations like UNICEF are helpful, but only in big cities. They would never send aid to the occupied territories. Through our connections, we’ve found individuals who drive there themselves and wait in lines at russian checkpoints. The grants we received were flexible, thus we took a chance and sent some expensive medication, hiding it in a box between the pads, hoping that the russians wouldn’t steal it. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer funding opportunities like these. While we want to address immediate needs, we also need to consider what will happen when the war ends. It’s time to start thinking strategically about how we can be involved in rebuilding the country. However, the war persists, and the demand for aid is not decreasing.

Feminist Lodge. Photo by Michael Tulsky

The role of the grassroots volunteer movement in Ukraine is hard to overestimate, in fact, it is the circulatory system of the whole country. We want to add a feminist lens to this movement to meet the needs of women and girls.

Zhenia: Volunteering is how I choose to spend my free time, so I prefer to work with people who share my political views. When the struggle has a broad focus, a lot of messages are lost. What’s important to me is being part of a team that collectively identifies problems and develops strategies to solve them. I have always advocated for non-governmental organisations. I thought that institutions could solve all the problems, but now I see that grassroots activism is much more efficient and effective.

Nastya: We are all intersectional feminists, focusing on diverse experiences and acknowledging their non-monolithic nature. First of all, we try to help those people who are most vulnerable and oppressed. Humanitarian work is an example of how we put our values into practice. In our opinion, sharing, caring and solidarity look like this in the context of war. We have been actively expanding our network. For example, we’re collaborating with FemSolution and Bilkis. We are thinking about how we can move from chaotic assistance to a more structured approach. This is our strategic vision. I think there are even more challenges ahead. We have to survive, and we have more joint actions in mind.

Zhenia: With the beginning of the full-scale war, anti-colonial narratives have definitely become more relevant to us.
Nastya: Even though we were aware of the neo-colonial influence, this topic was not in the first place for us before.
Lesia: We also share the same anti-capitalist views.

Feminist Lodge. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Nastya: The month before the start of the full-scale war was like an art house film for me. You’re sitting in Karma with your friends, discussing what the war will be like. You understand that it will happen, but you don’t want to believe it. I vividly remember driving home from a feminist stand-up show in a taxi on the eve of the invasion and seeing an armoured personnel carrier. It made me reflect on how my old life, which I knew would never come back, was actually amazing. I think I used to focus on what we lacked and how to do more, better, and cooler. At that moment, I realised how much has changed in my life over the years of our activity, and that I want to preserve it to prevent our society from regressing.

Lesia. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Lesia: There were a lot of different news stories that made me anxious, so I didn’t keep up with them. The only thing I did to feel better was to prepare an emergency backpack. On February 24th, 2022, I didn’t hear any explosions. I woke up at 9 am, read about what had happened in chats with my girlfriends, and then walked around the apartment and cried. It was very difficult to decide whether to leave Kyiv or stay. I was afraid that if I didn’t leave that day, I wouldn’t be able to leave the next day. Eventually, my parents decided to leave, so I got in their car and we drove to the west of Ukraine. I spent three months in Khmelnytskyi and then returned to Kyiv.

I don’t know if I’m coping mentally. It’s really tough now. I started playing computer games for the first time in my life, and I’m trying new things. I go to yoga and hike. I used to just enjoy going on hikes, but now I feel like going on a hike this weekend could help me.

Zhenia. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Zhenia: I spent four months in evacuation in Lviv and returned to Kyiv in the summer. On the first day of the invasion, I woke up at 5 am to a call from my sister. By 6, a bunch of friends had already gathered in my apartment. We had an idea to set up a survival squat, but by evening my optimism had dissipated, and my partner and I headed to the train station. We got to Vinnytsia on an evacuation train, and at that very moment Vinnytsia was being bombed.

It’s hard to recall my thoughts, but I had a sense that it wouldn’t happen to us and if it did, Europe had to act. For a long time, I had worked in the field of Holocaust studies, which is infused with ideas about “commonality against a common enemy” and the struggle against authoritarian regimes. But when Russia attacked us, government leaders started expressing their concerns, as they had already done in 2014, and as they had done with other countries – ours was no exception.

Nastya. Photo by Michael Tulsky

Nastya: Since I stayed in Kyiv after 24 February, I constantly felt like I could die any moment. I gave Lesia the password to my card so that in case of a missile attack, she could withdraw the donated money.  Every day was like my last, so I really wanted to communicate my experience. And I had this opportunity since activist networks were constantly calling for discussions. Unfortunately, some prominent feminist activists only supported Ukrainian women in words. When I told them about the facts of my life, they simply ignored them because they didn’t fit their perception of the world.

Zhenia: In spring 2022, I got involved in another volunteer initiative, and my friend and I were invited to a feminist conference in Berlin. Being there, abroad, already felt surreal. It was strange to see the white stripes under passenger planes in the sky, like “Wow! People are flying somewhere!” It was very challenging to get there, but here we are. I went to the first event of the conference, and the speaker talked about how shameful it is to involve the police when conflicts arise in the community. Another example of unworthy behaviour they mentioned was when Ukrainian queer people ask for help. “If you are vegan and queer, it doesn’t mean we are the same” — they said. We were all wearing face masks, and I thought, guys, a day and a half ago, a rocket almost hit me in Lviv. Of course, we are not the same. I couldn’t help but cry into my mask and leave. Here in Ukraine, I see that people understand what self-organisation is and how to show solidarity. Overall, one of the revelations of this war for me is that people actually know a lot.

Nastya: This experience gave me a sense of freedom and emancipated me in some way. I realised that no one has the right to dictate anything to me from a patronising position and that I have my own agency. In the past, I learned about feminism through translations of Western activists and scholars, and I always felt a sense of inferiority, as if everything was so feminist and cool elsewhere, and that we should aspire to that. Now, I want to learn more about countries that have a similar colonial experience, because even from the information I have, their struggles are fascinating. The feeling that I am not a victim, that I am helping people, and that I can do something about this situation, helps me to cope.

You can support the humanitarian work of Feminist Lodge through PayPal ([email protected]) or using the bank details found on Instagram.

Feminists of Kyiv is operated by a team of volunteers. We would like to produce more English-language interviews with feminists, LGBTQ+ activists, and other Ukrainian change-makers. You can support us with a one-time donation via PayPal ([email protected]) or on Patreon.

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Brie (FemSolution)

3 December 2023
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translators: Bozhena Makovska, Maryna Isaieva

Photographer: Michael Tulsky

FemSolution is a horizontal, intersectional feminist initiative that is currently engaged in helping IDP women, assisting victims of russian aggression from the de-occupied territories, and implementing educational projects. You can support them using these requisites.

My activism began with the trade union. While still at school, I started to identify as an anarchist. I kept up with various left-wing initiatives in Ukraine and beyond. At the age of 15, I attended a meeting of Direct Action, an organisation that originated in Ukraine in the 90s. Direct Action protects students’ rights, supports youth initiatives, and serves as a platform for them. We had weekly lectures, including ones on queer theory and feminism, and it was there that I gained most of the knowledge that I possess today. I remained actively involved in the organisation’s activities until 2019. We worked on educational projects and organised several festivals, and it was great fun. However, given that our work primarily focused on students, I lacked feminist activism.

In 2016, after the March 8th rally, I joined the newly created organisation FemSolution at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

FemSolution mostly held lectures, discussions, and readings. We had a space where we also held meetings for activists and people who were sympathetic to us. Now I understand that this was our practice of self-care and it was very supportive for activists. We were just starting to explore feminism, and many of our colleagues were studying at the sociology faculty, so they could “bring” something from there and tell us about it. Learning about how this world is structured was very informative, but at the same time painful.

We always liked the idea of creating zines, and we attended various workshops on the topic. Eventually, we decided to print our zine. We called it “La Merde” because we left stacks of them on the windowsill in the toilet to attract as many students as possible.

Inside, there was both poetry and art; we accepted any works that the authors considered feminist. During the pandemic, we also made a zine and paid the authors, but it was never released. The pandemic was a difficult time for our initiative, we hardly saw each other. I didn’t leave my house for almost three months because my mother had cancer. Now, we still want to publish that zine online.

In parallel, we are preparing two new zines. They will be thematic, it’s a new concept for us. The first zine — blackout — will contain reflections of people on their lives during power outages in the city. The second zine — the wartime zine — will be a space for different experiences of living through war. We hope that this (shared) experience will help us attract more people to the feminist community. I also see this as an opportunity to reflect reality: people are drawing now, writing texts, and poems, and it is important.

In 2017, due to repression from the university administration, we, as an organisation, had to leave the university. The story began when a girl approached us, saying that she was being harassed by her law professor. We talked to other female law students and found out that this was not the first such case. Even on this professor’s Facebook page, there were public statements that could be identified as harassment; we printed them out and posted them around the university. After that, we decided to organise a protest.

I already had experience organising protests, so I sent out press releases to create resonance and achieve success — the dismissal of the lecturer. However, almost all media outlets refused me, and only our acquaintances came to cover the event. Additionally, far-right groups came to the rally because the lecturer spread fake information that he was supposedly being dismissed because he promotes and defends the Ukrainian language. These guys harassed the participants, grabbed their backpacks, and shouted insults. We had to interrupt the rally for safety reasons, but we finally held it the next day. By then, many more students had gathered because everyone learned that 30 titushkas had invaded the university grounds the day before and attacked peaceful protesters.

After the action, our activists were summoned to the dean’s office to exert pressure. Grown men would come to our events and jot something down so that they could report it somewhere later. Most of the participants in our organisation were studying for a master’s degree at the time, and we wanted to protect them, so we ceased our activities at the university.

From that point on until the full-scale russian invasion, we organised various protests, including the “I’m Not Afraid to Act” march dedicated to the MeToo movement. We were co-organisers of feminist camps and different educational events; we like to identify FemSolution precisely as an educational initiative.

Since February 24, 2022, we have been engaged in humanitarian work. We process many individual requests for assistance and provide it whenever possible. Immediately after this interview, I will go to pack humanitarian aid for Kherson. Our packages contain hygiene products, medicines that we buy on prescription, and sometimes clothing. We currently have a large base of internally displaced women, as well as those who have lost their jobs or have been affected by the war in other ways. We have significantly increased the number of followers on social media, and this motivates us to continue our educational activities. We have already started making posts about feminism, violence, and other topics, and we have seen that there is a demand for this. Now we plan to hold meetings for IDPs in Kyiv, including sessions for psychological support.

The initiative currently has 8 active participants, and there are also 4-5 volunteers, primarily helping us collect and package parcels. Yulia leads the humanitarian direction, and everyone else supports her. Three people are currently located abroad, doing what they can to assist, such as inputting recipient data into mailing lists online. All our other activists have already returned to Kyiv. Recently, we rented an office that primarily serves as a warehouse. This space has been extremely helpful, and in the future, we hope to have our own dedicated space for hosting events.

Activists of FemSolution do not receive salaries, and all the aid we receive is spent on humanitarian aid.

We have one grant that goes exclusively to humanitarian aid. We apply wherever we can, but no matter how many grants we receive now, we will still not cover people’s requests for help. People share their stories with us, and as we read them, we realise that the need for assistance is only growing and will continue to do so. When the Ukrainian armed forces liberated the Kharkiv region, we sent aid there, and people there had no access to basic hygiene products at all.

I believe that we are doing the best we can given the number of activists, but some of us refuse to accept this and try to work even harder. Our friends have organised events in our support in Finland, Germany, and other places. I urge people to continue doing this, as we constantly require donations.

In FemSolution, I am responsible for grants, but I also work at my main job, help Kryvyi Rih miners, and develop my project — the Left Horizons summer school.

Left Horizons is an opportunity for people who care about social change to come together and talk about things that are important to them, as well as look at them from the perspective of feminism, ecology, and so on. I have been to various activist schools, camps, and lectures, and I tried to take the best from them.

The concept of the school is that the participants themselves suggest the content of the program and then choose from the schedule where they want to go that day. No one is obliged to attend all the lectures and there is no need to because all the activities are independent of each other. Communication also takes place on an equal footing: I encourage participants, if they are experts on certain topics, to share this information with others. In the first year, some people indicated in their applications topics that they did not understand but were interested in. They were able to analyse these topics on their own and explain them to others in an accessible way. In the end, everyone liked this format, so we repeated it at the next school. If people have a request to listen to lectures, but there are no experts on these topics among the participants, then I invite lecturers.

This year’s school will be announced on the project’s Instagram.

I really like the Finnish education system. I recently traveled to Finland and had the opportunity to see how it works there. I realised that I intuitively made the school based on the same principles, but there is still something to improve. The school brought together many people with very different backgrounds. For example, we had a woman who works as an accountant in a trade union, a girl from the debate community, and people who create video games… It’s cool and I’m proud of this project.

I’m a huge stand-up comedy fan. My friend from the Feminist Lodge and I share this passion and started organising screenings with discussions even before the pandemic hit. It’s fascinating to observe the evolution of this genre and to reflect on the various jokes made by women, including those that are sometimes sexist. In February, just before the full-scale invasion, my favourite stand-up show was released, and we got together with other feminist activists to watch it. Some people couldn’t attend the event due to anxiety.

We all had a feeling that something was about to happen.

At that time, I was already in a volunteer group chat room discussing an action plan, and everyone thought it was inevitable that russia would start a full-scale war against us. But to be honest, when it all started, I was in a stupor. I realised that I couldn’t get to their headquarters and do anything. Very quickly I became a person who communicated with foreigners. But I had enough strength for only two weeks of such work because it was very difficult.

I didn’t want to leave Kyiv, but I relocated to another neighbourhood as I used to live close to the Ministry of Defence. The area without military facilities where I moved to was eventually shelled by the russians, although there is little talk about it. I was worried that the shelling would lead to power cuts, so I had to trek up to the seventh floor on foot. It was hard both for me and my elderly dog. We could constantly hear explosions as the air defence system was operational. It was a huge source of stress for us. I would only go outside for two or three minutes to walk the dog near the house while my brother held the door.

During air raids, we sought refuge in shelters, and I am grateful to those who allowed us in and reacted normally to a person with a large dog. After I left Kyiv, the kindergarten where we usually took shelter came under fire.

My mom and I decided to leave the city when we finally managed to fill up the car. We were at the petrol station when the air raid alarm went off, and we had to wait for it to reopen. Suddenly, we heard a loud explosion and felt a shock wave from a shell that hit somewhere nearby. It was terrifying not being able to see anything and not knowing if the next shell would hit us. I turned to my mom and told her I couldn’t live here anymore, and the next day we left Kyiv.

The road was very difficult and took about 30 hours. On the way, in Vinnytsia, strangers kindly offered us a place to stay and also treated the dog very well. Later we reached the Lviv region and settled in Stryi. Life there was calm, almost nothing happened. We were lucky to find a place to live that didn’t cost much. I did not know if I would have a job, it was not clear what would happen next. After living in Stryi for seven months, I returned to Kyiv in October.

Kyiv is my hometown, but I never envisioned living here during the war.

The first two weeks after my return were incredibly challenging, but things have improved since then, and I’m not as worried as before. It seems to me that I have already gotten used to the shelling and accepted the situation as a whole. I feel that everything will be fine.

It’s a little sad that there is such a stagnation with activism here now. FemSolution and I are going to try to revive the community. On March 8, in collaboration with the Feminist Lodge, we’re organising a charity event where feminist musicians of various genres will perform. Additionally, there will be a tattoo corner, a lottery, and vegan cuisine. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the 93rd Brigade, where our comrades are serving. They are currently on a mission in the Bakhmut direction; they need to repair vehicles and are in great need of drones.

It is important for me to highlight the need to support Ukraine with weapons.

It’s strange to hear discussions suggesting that anti-militarism necessitates withholding armed assistance from Ukraine. While I generally support the notion that there should be no weapons in principle, as someone with anti-militarist sentiments, we cannot advocate for this while russians are killing our military and civilians.

I am also frustrated by the topic of negotiations. There are often Western opinions that Ukrainians simply do not want to sit down and talk. I believe that this format of resolving the situation is currently impossible. There were negotiations at the beginning of the full-scale offensive, but during these negotiations, russia was shelling our cities, so what kind of negotiations are we talking about?

We need weapons to defend our people, the civilian population. If you want us all to be killed, then yes, we don’t need weapons for that. Ukraine is now fighting for the war to end, and we have no other way but to deter russian aggression.

Feminists of Kyiv is operated by a team of volunteers. We would like to produce more English-language interviews with feminists, LGBTQ+ activists, and other Ukrainian change-makers. You can support us with a one-time donation via PayPal ([email protected]) or on Patreon

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2 November 2022
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

Bilkis is a grassroots intersectional feminist initiative that adheres to the anti-capitalist agenda. After the beginning of the full-scale russian invasion in Ukraine, they relocated to Lviv and adjusted their activities to the humanitarian needs of women and LGBTQ+ people. You can support Bilkis using these requisites.

Yevheniia: Yana and I studied at the university and lived together in a dormitory. At that time, I was immersed in the topic of feminism as I saw in it the answer to my problem — an eating disorder. Then I realised how important feminism is politically. We observed how things were going in Kharkiv and exchanged our thoughts, and views. There was only one organisation in the city that covered the topic of women’s rights, and we thought it would be cool to do a grassroots, horizontal, anarchist initiative.

Yana: Then I had already been a feminist for a long time, but I was involved in activism only sporadically. At some point, I realised that I had to do something different, and I shared this idea with Zhenya (Yevheniia). That’s how we created Bilkis. For several years, the two of us have been engaged in online activism, holding street actions dedicated to the topic of gender-based violence. Then we decided to expand and were joined by other members.

Yevheniia: This year in March we planned to hold an interactive lecture for teenage girls (8th-11th grades). Even before February 20, we posted leaflets with invitations around the city. We had been preparing for it for a long time and booked space, but on February 24, a full-scale war began. That morning I woke up to explosions. I asked my partner what those sounds were, he replied that it must be thunder. However, two more rockets flew by and it became clear that it was not thunder. We started packing, I called Yana and offered to go to Poltava together. My father took us there by car. From Poltava, we left for Germany and spent two months there.

Ivanna: I joined Bilkis a little over a year ago. I am from Donetsk region, but I’ve lived in Kharkiv for the last three years. I met the war when I was alone in the apartment. All the bomb shelters marked on the maps of my area were closed and the keys to them were lost. I moved downtown with my friends, and there we shared a bathroom and a hallway. Then I jumped on the evacuation train that was going to Kyiv, but it was extended to Lviv. In recent months, our initiative has done many different humanitarian tasks, in which I’ve been actively involved.

Lisa: I’m from Crimea, but I’ve been living in Kyiv for the past six years. On February 24, I woke up in the apartment where my friend and I lived for six years and saw that she was standing there dressed. She said “it started” and after a few minutes she left, leaving me alone. After that, other friends started calling me, urging me to go, and I started to pack. I went to live with my relatives in the Rivne region for three months, and I had a very difficult time there because they were not ready to live together, especially during the war. At some point, I went to Lviv, met my friends here, and they offered to move in. I joined Bilkis two months ago. Humanitarian aid is currently the main focus of our activity, but we want to get back to educational projects.

Yevheniia: We were constantly in contact with all the participants of our initiative, and we continued to hold meetings and discuss the possibilities of continuing our activities.

Yana: Even before the invasion began, we had applied for a small grant, and in the first days of a full-scale war, they responded that they were ready to provide us with these funds as an emergency. This probably became a catalyst for our humanitarian work.

Ivanna: At first, we provided targeted help, got some requests from relatives and friends, and sent them the necessary things. Then on our social media pages, we shared the message that we were sending humanitarian aid kits.

Yevheniia: This activity became more structured when Yana and I returned to Lviv, got together, and discussed the action plan. But we did not expect that there would be so many requests for help. After the publication, more than a hundred people wrote to us in a few hours. It reached 300-400 messages per day. And although we are no longer accepting new requests, people still reach out to us…

Lisa: Russian aggression continues and the number of requests does not decrease. People are leaving their occupied hometowns, they have no jobs, their children need medicine, and everyone needs food and shelter. And you have to turn all these requests down because you don’t have enough resources to cover them. You read their stories and it tears you apart…

Yana: In cases where evacuation is required, we can still redirect people somewhere, and find the places to stop. But we do not direct requests for humanitarian aid to other initiatives, because their possibilities are also exhausted.

Yevheniia: We spent a lot of money on humanitarian aid, and when the money ran out, we started looking for new opportunities. Then we noticed that all those Western foundations that provided emergency support at the beginning of the invasion were no longer ready to keep on offering it. Now they require us to be officially registered and meet their usual criteria.

Yana: Currently, we are helping using the money from donations and probably will continue to do so in the future. If people keep on donating, we will buy the necessary things and close the requests. I feel exhausted from humanitarian work, I am tired of people who ask us for help, of the fact that it is necessary to coordinate it and to carry heavy boxes. I want to stop doing it because it is unbearable to do it all the time.

Yevheniia: In Kharkiv, we felt that we were building a feminist community. Such a community already exists in Lviv, this way we will concentrate on our projects.

Yana: We now have an office in Lviv, and we decided to allocate one of the rooms for a permanent free market. People can bring their things there that they don’t need or take what they want. I would like in the future for this space to also become a platform for various events dedicated to eco themes.

Yevheniia: The project that I want to host in our space is feminist poetry evening. Once every two weeks, volunteers will gather and talk about their feelings through poetry: their works, or those they like. Since the beginning of the full-scale war, I’ve started to read a lot of Ukrainian poetry. It is difficult for me to express my thoughts in my own words in a conversation with someone, but I can read a poem and understand: this is how I feel.

Lisa: I would like to manage the cultural direction. Many female painters and sculptors lived and worked in Lviv. I would like to create and conduct feminist tours telling people about women artists. I also love cinema and want to hold film screenings about women and for women, including displaced women.

Ivanna: I have a small project that has already started. Together with Yana, I created a cycling club in Lviv. We invite women and nonbinary people on bike rides and ride together. This is something completely new for me, but I’ve been dreaming about it for a long time. I’ve been a solo cyclist all my life, and now I’ve decided it would be cool to build a community open to different groups of people who aren’t cyclists. I am learning to be inclusive and sensitive, and I want to tell people that cycling is not always about competition, so you can just ride and have fun. I enjoy having a sport in my life and I would like to share it with others. In addition, I am a courier for the Lviv Vegan Kitchen. At the beginning of the invasion, I was riding a bicycle to the suburbs of Lviv, and delivering food to the vegans of the Territorial Defence. Now I deliver lunches from them to the Feministychna Maisternia shelter every day.

Yana: If we talk about what kind of help we need, it is, first of all, involvement. I would like feminists from Ukraine to be invited to discussions as experts about their own lives as often as possible. So that they can tell what is happening in Ukraine now and what challenges they are working with, even if they do not know English well or at all.

Yevheniia: We need all the possible attention to Ukraine. Especially to women, queer people, and feminist groups who stayed and keep on working in Ukraine. We need a lot of money, as without it, unfortunately, some things cannot be done within the framework of the capitalist system.

Lisa: We ask people to trust the opinion of Ukrainian feminists and Ukrainian women, and discard some of your liberal, enchanted views about Ukraine and russia. To believe what is happening to us, and maybe even treat it more rationally. Often news about Ukraine is perceived very emotionally by Western communities, but then they offer to “make friends” with the occupiers. People should realise that the problem is not solely with putin, but with the russians.

Yana: Recently, I attended lectures about Rojava and we discussed that now Turkey is starting to escalate the war again. I want countries that have resources, which are often the ones of Western Europe, as they had places to export them from, to pay more attention to all the territories where there are currently some captures or military actions. So that the people living in these countries begin reflecting on the topic of their own colonialism and self-educating on the issues of both the countries of Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

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Lviv Vegan Kitchen

27 September 2022
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

Lviv Vegan Kitchen is a volunteer project that provides free vegan food to IDPs and the army in Ukraine. You can support them by using these requisites or on Patreon.

Oksana: We are sisters named Marta and Oksana. Before the full-scale military invasion of russia, we ran a small business managing a shop with handmade jewellery in Lviv. We were studying, trying something new, dreaming about something. With the beginning of the invasion, we lost our jobs and started volunteering. At first, it was chaotic: we made soups, visited lonely elderly people, and wove camouflage nets for the army. On the night of 1st March, we came up with the idea to create a Lviv Vegan Kitchen.

That night we went to volunteer at the rail station where the refugees were arriving. There was plenty of food at the station but nothing vegan. Apart from us, there were other vegans among the volunteers and all of us ate cereal bars the whole night. The next morning we went to our friends at the Vega Room cafe to talk about the idea of ​​creating a volunteer kitchen. On the way there we met a friend who is also a vegan. She and her boyfriend were in The Territorial Defence Forces at the time, and she told us that she hadn’t eaten anything for days because their pasta was mixed with meat. At that moment, we realised that there was definitely a demand for such a project.

Marta: We have been vegans since 2017 and we already had an experience of activism: we took part in various street actions from time to time, carried out thematic film screenings, and translated the film. There are few vegans in Lviv, so everyone knows everyone. Instead of closing the cafe, friends from Vega Room rented us their kitchen, and we started working with everything we needed. Therefore, without contacts in the vegan community, probably nothing would have happened, or it would have been on a completely different scale.

Now Oksana and I are engaged in communications, fundraising, and sending parcels. At first, we were also involved in the work of the kitchen, meaning we did everything. Then many volunteers joined, most of whom are internally displaced people, and now the kitchen team works in shifts. In essence, we have two areas of work: kitchen and food parcels. In addition, we are setting up our own production of bars, and we have plans to make complete vegan dry rations.

Oksana: In Ukraine, there is still a widespread stereotype that vegans are some kind of hipsters, and veganism is a fashion trend. The thing is that the vegans are mostly young people and certain communities that are not represented in the authorities or the health care system. Therefore, the standard food model is preferred. It’s unfortunate, but hunger has forced people to try vegan food. They sign up for all possible help. Sometimes, I call back on a request for a parcel that was left a month ago, and they tell me that we are the first to respond during that time.

Marta: There have been a lot of requests for humanitarian parcels and we have closed the application form for new ones at the moment. We can send about 40 parcels a week, and we have 6200 applications. For all time of this initiative, we have sent more than 800 parcels of food, of which about 50 were to the military, all the rest to civilians.

Providing the military with vegan food currently rests entirely on the shoulders of their families and volunteers.

Sometimes it’s impossible to organise the shipment at all if neither the car nor the mail can reach the location of the military. We do not know the number of vegans in the Ukrainian army, and there is no way for us to somehow interview everyone.

Moreover, not everyone is ready to openly talk about their position, especially women, who already have a hard time in the army because they are women.

We have friends in the Armed Forces and the National Guard who face sexism, and in general, the treatment of women there is terrible. No one wants to be bullied twice even for being vegan. People go vegan for a variety of reasons: some people do it for health, and they are ok with putting their healthy eating routine on pause; and there are people who do it for ethical reasons, and they would rather die than eat meat.

Oksana: I thought that there would be different kitchens, and different humanitarian headquarters and our kitchen would be aimed specifically at vegans who cannot eat elsewhere. But time passed, the headquarters stopped working, humanitarian aid was declining, and now people do not have this choice. It seems to me that in the beginning, people were more active in donating products, it was easier to transport them across the border, and when it came to the point that this activity had to be somehow structured and formalised, not everyone had the strength to do it, and enthusiasm gradually subsided.

So over time, we stopped being a vegan option, now we are just a kitchen for refugees.

Marta: Obviously, we are ready to provide food for everyone. I have never seen what we do as a promotion of veganism. I believe that now is not the time for vegan agitation. For me, veganism is the base, and then I focus on people. Many people from Western countries write to us: “Nobody is doing as much to promote veganism as you are.” Maybe we do, but it was not our intention. Now the situation is even worse than at the beginning of the invasion: people continue to arrive in Lviv, but the tents at the station are no longer waiting for them.

Marta: We are mostly supported by Western vegan communities. Sometimes there are donations from Ukraine, but they are very chaotic. Help comes in different formats: media publications, and targeted help from vegan food manufacturers and brands who send us a carload of beans or soybean meal. Also, there is a small shop in Great Britain that makes sunflowers out of glass, sells them, and sends all the money earned from it to our kitchen. There are organisations and people who support us all the time, such as Vegconomist and Lush. Someone subscribes to our Patreon, someone makes a one-time donation to PayPal. Any help is important, even reposts. For example, the owner of the vegan brand “Tofurkey “ sent us 5 packs of vitamins and we were able to close 5 requests for those vitamins.

It is not necessary to provide us with the whole truck of supplies to make help significant.

There is a list of products that we always need in the kitchen, but the needs are constantly changing. Therefore, before buying products, it is better to ask us what is currently missing. This will allow us to make food parcels more diverse and not overload the warehouse. Money is always needed: we pay for kitchen rent, utilities, warehouse rent, security, and garbage removal. All together it costs about $1,600 a month. This is a big burden for a volunteer project, especially on our scale. Sometimes we feed 500 people a day.

Oksana: There is also a need for volunteers. If someone from the team gets sick, it will be noticeable as there will be no one to replace them. Now there is no such thing as volunteer chat where people ask to give them some kind of work or ask where they can volunteer, everyone is tired. Even if 3 million hryvnias or 30 trucks with products fell onto us now, and we had the opportunity to close all requests, it would take 100 days! 100 days of continuous packing of parcels.

Marta: If it turns out that there will no longer be a need for the existence of a kitchen, we will be able to develop dry rations, or focus more efforts on delivery, and faster processing of requests. In any case, we will have something to do and someone to help. After the start of the full-scale war, my priorities changed. Now I think that there is nothing more important than helping others and that’s why I feel in my place.

Oksana: With all the support we received, I would not like for the project to end just like that. I would like it to continue and develop in other directions, at least at minimal speed.

We would like to give back to the world as much as we have received.

There are many categories of the population whose circumstances were poor even before the war. Yes, it will be much more difficult to solve these problems, but I hope that our enthusiasm, resources, as well as experience and contacts that we have now acquired, will be enough to do that.

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Nonbinary Activist

On the Journey of Gender Transitioning

Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

Edward Reese shares his insights on the challenges and developments in his life since our last conversation, focusing on his gender transition as a nonbinary individual in Ukraine.

“Previously, we discussed my plans to create a theatrical project about my experiences with domestic violence. Interestingly, my journey took a turn when I attended my first consultation for gender transitioning in preparation for the project. I’ve long wanted to take steps in this direction, but I lacked the opportunity while in an abusive relationship. Although financial constraints remain, I can no longer delay my transition. In Ukraine, trans individuals must obtain a psychiatric diagnosis. My visits to Pavlov Hospital not only highlighted this requirement but also inspired me to pivot my project towards a performative exhibition on transness and psychiatry.”

Edward emphasises the common misconceptions about trans individuals. “Often, discussions about trans people focus on surgeries, influenced by their portrayal in films, predominantly about trans women due to their higher visibility. The real-life experiences of trans men and nonbinary individuals remain largely unrecognised. I aim to document my journey, in hopes that Ukraine will soon adopt the ICD-11, which no longer classifies transness as a psychiatric disorder. This change would simplify the process, requiring only consultations with a psychotherapist and sexologist.”

Despite facing challenges at the psychiatric hospital, Edward’s activism provides him with a unique platform. “My experience, while traumatic, is not the worst. I’ve heard from younger individuals who faced mockery and bullying during their visits. As an activist, I can use platforms like TikTok to raise awareness and foster discussions, which is crucial since not many are speaking out.”

Addressing the invisibility of nonbinary and queer individuals in medical practices, Edward shares his personal adaptations during his transition. “I am a nonbinary person but for our medicine, nonbinary and queer people don’t exist at all. I’m going through the FTM transition because it is the only option. I had to present myself in the most masculine way possible, fearing that any deviation might be misconstrued by medical professionals. This included not shaving my facial hair and avoiding makeup, which are not practices I maintain in my everyday life.”

Edward also reflects on the differences in handling gender transitioning in Norway. “I spoke with a Norwegian psychotherapist, also a trans individual, who informed me about the adoption of ICD-11 principles there. Unlike in Ukraine, where individuals are expected to ‘cure’ other conditions before transitioning, in Norway, treatments can occur simultaneously, preventing additional psychological distress. My experience in Stockholm, attending a training for trans activists and visiting a gender clinic, highlighted the stark contrasts in treatment and options available, making it feel like two different worlds.”

Edward’s experiences navigating the complexities of gender transitioning in contrasting environments underline the profound need for a global shift towards more inclusive and understanding healthcare practices. As he continues to advocate and educate through his art and activism, Edward’s story serves as a beacon of hope and a call to action, inspiring not only empathy but also the necessary change in how society and medical institutions worldwide perceive and support the trans community.

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Edward Reese

On being nonbinary, TikTok and performance about abuse

Interview held on 05 February 2021, published on 18 June 2021

Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsk

My name is Edward, I am a nonbinary or queer person, and my pronouns are he/they. I do not fit myself into the “male” and “female” categories. Looking at me, you might think that I am a conventional woman, but I am not. I do not accept the typical signs of masculinity and femininity as taken; for me, these are all human characteristics. I also do not segregate other people into men and women, although respecting each person’s personal and political views.

I believe that the concept of non-binary gender and everything’s queerness is an essential tool in the struggle against patriarchy.

The dividing of the world into masculine and feminine is used mainly by cisgender, heterosexual white men to maintain the existing system. The very existence of nonbinary people undermines this system. I have not read any clever books on this topic, these are personal feelings and developments of intersectional feminism. I think that someday we will come to a beautiful post-gender society, where no one will care who has which genitals and chromosomes, except for doctors who specialize in this. In my opinion, this will be the next step after the victory of feminism, when equality between men and women will be achieved. We might even see it in our 60-80s.

I’m 35, I was born in the Soviet Union. My mom has a poster that I painted when I was 4 or 5 years old. It shows a rally and two girls. One of them holds a placard that reads: “End of Perestroika and Socialism.” The world has changed a lot during my life. For most of my life, I only had a landline telephone, and some did not. Everything is developing so quickly that I believe that the formation of such a society is possible. Globalization contributes significantly to this.

I often face criticism in the LGBTQ+ community. Cis people believe that since we have not achieved marriages for gay couples yet, it’s not time for trans people to defend their rights. However, I don’t understand why we need to follow the same development path as other countries when we can take their experience, consider all the mistakes, and achieve results faster? I have worked in a trans organization and can tell that even within the trans community, there is queerphobia. They still use the term “transsexuality” and divide trans people into “real” — those who made the transition, and “fake” — those who “invented all these genders.” I do not see any queer and non-binary community in Ukraine yet, except for individual people who communicate in social networks, for example, in TikTok.

In TikTok, I create educational content in Ukrainian about non-binary to form this community in Ukraine. My audience is young people, up to 25 years old, who are already growing in the paradigm that it is possible. Under some of my videos, they thank me for making them realize they’re nonbinary. People learn something new, and it helps them to understand their identity better. I also talk about LGBTQ+ organizations that exist in different cities. Young people have a great desire to volunteer and a desire to engage in activism. Still, since most of these organizations are represented only on Facebook, they do not know about their existence. In the future, I plan to make a meeting with subscribers in Kyiv and then perhaps go on a small tour around the country. I understand that teenagers and students do not always have the opportunity to travel somewhere.

“People learn something new, and it helps them to understand their identity better.”

Sometimes I get death threats on Tiktok. It is clear that the authors of these messages are unlikely ever to move away from their computers and mothers, but I complain about such comments and once contacted a human rights organization that provides activists with legal assistance. I do not feel 100% free in Ukraine, as there are various active right-wing and conservative organizations here. But the conservative movement is just a movement, some guys who may receive money for this, and some like to beat up people — kind of a sect of violence fans. Working at Kyivpride, I see that people’s attitude in general, the nation’s one, changes over time. Thanks to this, I feel freer and more comfortable.

In the fall of 2019, I went to the Postplaylab performance school, an alternative Kyiv theatre, the concept of which is close to Marina Abramovich’s works. Previously, I hadn’t come across a performance, and with a theatre in general, but at that moment, I was experiencing a break-up and thought where I could direct my emotions. What I saw there amazed me. It was a compelling process, an absolute catharsis, and therapy. At school, they taught us mainly to work with the body, and after two weeks of training, the participants had to present the final project. All performances were individual but took place simultaneously, on the street, in the city centre. Each of us ended up with a painful story from the past.

“It was a compelling process, an absolute catharsis, and therapy.”

I decided to work with my leading trauma — the trauma of partner violence. While leaving the abuser, I secretly went to a psychotherapist and discreetly was in a psychological support group on Facebook. In this group, I wrote posts about what is happening to me. I printed out these posts, read them out loud, and threw each sheet on the ground. After the performance, I still felt that something was missing; it seemed unfinished to me. In the fall of 2020, Facebook began to “remind” me of the time when I tried to leave my partner, and I decided to continue working. I started publishing texts from a closed diary. Many of those who have had a similar experience thanked me. Some people who address me are in a relationship with the abuser and do not know how to leave. The two women in the comments agreed to discuss the divorce process with the abuser and help each other on this matter. Thus, the performance has already begun.

“It’s hard to believe when you’re not there, and it’s impossible to consider when you’ve never been there.”

When it gets warmer, I plan to bring in colleagues from the theatre for help and do something like a performative mono play. The main question I hear as a domestic violence victim is, “Why didn’t you leave?”.  Lots of affected women get it. At the same time, no one asks the rapists why do they rape and beat people. With my performance, I want to show the state of a person suffering from abuse. I go to psychotherapy, and when I talk about physical and sexual abuse, I often smile at the same time. The psychotherapist asks: “What emotions do you experience?”. Then I wonder what emotions I was experiencing at that time, and I am overwhelmed with horror. It’s hard to believe when you’re not there, and it’s impossible to consider when you’ve never been there. With scenography, sounds, and text, I want to let the audience experience it themselves.

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A Short Guide

On gender-based violence in Ukraine

11 December 2020
Text: Bozhena Makovska
Photo: Michael Tulsky

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, every 5th woman in Ukraine has faced some type of violence, and 90% of all people who suffered from violence are women. Various public organizations do their own research, but there are no national statistics in Ukraine. For this reason, it is often not possible to collect information that would allow us to assess the effectiveness of the violence combat system.

According to UN Women Ukraine, the number of calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline has doubled over the entire quarantine period. However, only 40% of women who have experienced violence seek help. Only 10% of them go to the police. Victims of violence do not trust law enforcement agencies and do not believe that they can make a difference.

Frequently the policemen simply do not respond to domestic violence calls, and during the quarantine, there were cases when they refused to issue urgent restraining orders to the abusers using pandemic as an excuse. The lack of trust in the Ukrainian police is rooted not only in their limited competence when it comes to addressing gender-based violence but also in the shadow of systemic crimes against humanity perpetrated by security forces themselves.

The last case, which became known to the public, took place on the night of May 24, 2020, in the town of Kaharlyk, where two policemen – Serhiy Sulima and Mykola Kuziv – tortured a woman who had been summoned to the police station as a witness in the case of theft. They put a gas mask on her head, blocking access to oxygen, beat her, shot over her head with a service weapon, and raped her several times. Both police officers managed to avoid undergoing law enforcement recertification after the Revolution of Dignity. However, it is known that 93% of the dismissed police officers from the old system were reinstated by a court decision.

In contrast to another high-profile case – the rape of a woman by police in the village of Vradiivka in 2013 with an attempt on her life, which led to the storming of the police station by villagers, a ‘march to Kyiv’ almost 400 km long, mass protests throughout the country, and became one of the catalysts for the beginning of Euromaidan – the tortures in Kaharlyk did not make any changes to the system.

There are a number of obstacles to bringing rapists to justice. One such challenge is the initial classification of domestic violence cases under the Administrative Code. To elevate these cases to the level of criminal offences, the violence must meet the criterion of being ‘systematic.’ An illustrative case from 2019 in Kyiv highlights this issue: the first conviction under the domestic violence article resulted in a mere three-month prison sentence for the perpetrator, but only after navigating a protracted process involving nine separate administrative procedures.

Certain categories of people are exempted from administrative responsibility (including domestic violence cases) and, accordingly, cannot be brought to criminal proceedings – these are law enforcement officers and military personnel. When a soldier commits domestic violence, the police pass on the protocol to his superiors, and they are the ones who decide what to do next. This rule especially exacerbates the situation of those living in the conflict-affected Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. In their latest report, Amnesty International Ukraine says: «Women in these areas describe a lack or scarcity of available and accessible services, the aggravating effect of a military presence and ongoing hostilities, and harmful gender stereotypes.»

«Out of 27 cases recorded by Amnesty International, in 10 cases, the women did not report instances of violence. When women did call the police, in 3 cases, the police officer did not register a complaint, in 8 cases, women had to call repeatedly to get their complaints registered, and in 3 other cases, police officers persuaded women to withdraw their complaint after registering it.»  There are three shelters for victims of violence in the Donetsk region (with a population of about 4.1 million), and in the Luhansk region (2.1 million), there is only one shelter. There is a shortage of shelters throughout Ukraine, and since they are located in large cities or near these cities, women are often unable to reach them.

Ukraine was one of the authors of the Istanbul Convention – an international agreement dedicated to the fight against gender-based violence – and signed it back in 2011 but has not yet ratified it. In 2016, the deputies, apparently under the influence of the Rada of Churches and their conservative beliefs, did not vote for the document, arguing that it contained the concepts of ‘gender’, ‘gender identity’, and ‘sexual orientation’.

In May 2020, the petition to ratify the convention received the required 25,000 votes, but the bill was never submitted for consideration in Verkhovna Rada. The convention would oblige the state to provide effective mechanisms to protect women from all forms of violence. Human rights defenders and feminists of different currents have united in demanding the government to ratify the Convention: the annual marches on March 8 are held under this slogan. One can say that the problem of violence against cis women in Ukraine is on the agenda: it is widely discussed both in the media and in government bodies.

At the same time, violence against LGBTQ+ people remains a deeply stigmatized topic due to institutional homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Gender non-conforming people, non-heterosexual individuals, LGBTQ+ and feminist activists are regularly bullied and become victims of attacks by members of far-right organizations. Violence perpetrated against LGBTQ+ is more often than not classified as ‘hate crimes’ due to regulatory imperfections and police bias. Ignoring the true motives (aggravating circumstances) makes it impossible to impose more severe penalties. As a result, the rapists feel unpunished, and the real picture of the violation of the LGBTQ+ people rights and the violence committed against them is not available to the public.

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To Jest Wojna

Solidarity action with Polish women in Kyiv

16 November 2020
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Photographer: Michael Tulsky
Translator: Maryna Isaieva

On October 22, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortions for fetal abnormalities violate the country’s Constitution, effectively imposing a near-total ban as 1,074 of 1,100 abortions performed last year in Poland resulted from fetal abnormalities. Therefore abortion will be legal only in case of a threat to a woman’s life and health, rape, or incest. However, pro-life activists have declared already that they will push for a complete ban on abortions, even in these cases. Thousands of people took to the streets of different cities to protest against the decision and the current government’s policy, the most restrictive abortion policy in Europe. The protests have taken place every day since then.

On October 26, activists of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Mariupol took part in actions of solidarity with Polish women. We have collected the reflections of Kyiv action participants in this article.

Anastasia, she/her

As soon as I read about the abortion ban in Poland, I texted my comrades in a chat: “We have to go to the action.” Although abortion has been banned in Poland since 1993, this time, it just got even more absurd. This is an ideological battle against women’s rights. That is why Polish women and gender-variant people should be provided with information and moral support, and that is what we can do. Online protesting in the pandemic present is also an option, but it rarely goes beyond the social media ‘bubble’. Ukrainian and international media wrote about our action in front of the embassy. Thanks to this, Polish activists noticed that we support them and that they are not alone in this struggle. When I learned that the right-wing radicals were planning to come there earlier and take place under the embassy, ​​I was very worried and angry. I already had an experience of appealing to the police to ensure the safety of activists at feminist events, so I talked to law enforcement officers all morning that day. We were offered to stand on the other side of the street, but I am glad that the action still took place. It expressed solidarity not only with Polish activists but also with women in Ukraine and everywhere. As the war for the female body is not over, rights are not given — they are taken.

Brie, she/her

This is not my first action related to abortion bans in Poland. In 2016, there was an action of solidarity with the ‘black protest’ (Czarny protest) — one of the first experiences of feminist actions in Ukraine for me, not counting March 8. My motivation to participate now, as then, is that I am convinced that a woman* has the right to decide for herself what to do with her life and her body. No state apparatus should take away this right from her. All these deputies, at the behest of whom was initiated the review of the act as inappropriate, care about anything, but the health and general well-being of women.

I was feeling anxious while speaking into a megaphone in public. It was even more unsettling to see people who repeatedly attacked my friends. Nevertheless, as long as I stand with my comrades and speak, I am not afraid, and I will not be afraid. My theses from the speech can be briefly described as follows: I am FOR choice, FOR sexual education, FOR affordable contraception, FOR affordable and safe medicine, FOR effective social policy, FOR absence of stigmatization, and AGAINST any violence.

Our main goal was to support Polish women who found themselves in a situation of impossibility to control their own bodies. However, it was also important for me to speak there to remind: there are deputies, activists, religious organizations in Ukraine that are ready to ban abortions as well.

Marta, she/her

My sisters live in Poland, so when I found out what was going on, I felt terrified. I think that the protests will slow down these processes but will not affect the ban. Then I recalled how recently the Verkhovna Rada also had tried to push through an abortion ban bill. They failed, but I am as well not very optimistic on that matter: I think that at some time, this issue will be raised again. I was furious, felt a lot of aggression. I wanted to punish someone for these actions rather than go to some rally. Rationally, I realized that I needed to go out, but I didn’t have the strength. I’ve been looking for a job for some time already, this process has dragged a bit, and I don’t like it. I decided that I would at least help draw posters, thus support my sisters who are going to the protests in Krakow, and I will be useful for the protest in general. I drew two posters: “I will give birth to a leftist” in Polish and “Abortion is my business.” I saw the first slogan on my sister’s Instagram. I liked it because it’s a pretty desperate exclamation, like, do you want me to give birth? Then the people I give birth to will arrange a coup here.

Eventually, I came to the action, and it lifted my spirits that day. I was in a state of euphoria, after which, of course, there was exhaustion. It was the same on March 8, when I slept all day after the march. I accumulate all my strength and give it to protest, but I do not feel that I can make an impact or take it away from those who have it now. I just do it because I can’t do otherwise; I have no choice.

Yuliia, she/her

I have not taken part in any actions for a long time due to quarantine and some other conventions, including the fact that I always try to figure out what action I am going to, who is it supported by, what I stand for. So, usually, I want to delve into all the intricacies of the particular rally’s agenda. Although the situation with abortion bans in Poland seemed to me quite clear, it was so unacceptable that all the other details were not important. I wrote to my friend, Yasya, with an offer to meet to draw posters for the action, to express both solidarity and protest at the same time.

We bought two posters — red and black, firstly for aesthetic reasons, and secondly — for ideological (colours of anarchism). Going forward, I should say that I was later amused and struck by the fact that some representatives of the right-wing movement considered the message of our posters as “an insult to the red and black colour combination of Ukrainian nationalism”. Assigning such a common colour scheme to a particular movement is wildly amusing, in my opinion. Maybe Stendhal was also a Ukrainian nationalist?

We did not want to repeat the obvious populist slogans and came to the conclusion that in this situation, the principle ‘rights are not asked, they are taken’ applies. What is the point of tiptoeing around people who deprive you of subjectivity, deprive you of basic human rights, and try to convince them on a logical, rational level? They are not worthy of it. It’s like proving to the attacker that you are also a person, and in general, violence is bad. In the process of coming up with different phrases, I said, “I don’t want to complicate things, I just want to express how I feel about it, and that fits in with the words ‘RED IS GO FUCK YOURSELF,’ and Yasya supported my idea, adding, ‘Ah.’ BLACK IS ALSO GO FUCK YOURSELF.”

Despite the obvious provocation, rudeness, and simplistic interpretation of our statement by some people, I am very pleased with what and how we said it. We have to stop begging for rights that should be already ours. It’s time to start talking to ignorant people in their language.

Yasya, she/her

At the action, there were many messages and posters in Polish, including chants that hardly anyone of those present understood. That’s good, and I see why it is so, but there is a nuance. In our own country, the Council of Churches is constantly trying to get into the womb. I went to the action not only to express my support for the striking women in Poland but also to show with my presence that I would defend the right to abortion in Ukraine. I went out for myself in the first place, if you will. Therefore, I would like more activists to be guided by their interests rather than principles of abstract philanthropy and empathy, which they often forget to apply to themselves.

I get quite upset when someone starts explaining to opponents of abortion the consequences of the prohibitionist abortion policy, cites statistics, appeals for sympathy. We talk to them as if we need some weighty arguments, just to live as we consider to be right, just to control our bodies. It is prohibitively impudent. I’m not going to make excuses for my body´s autonomy or arguing politely that the abortion ban will not reduce the number of abortions. I do not live to increase demography or generally to increase the efficiency of anything. I refuse to recognize myself as an instrument in the hands of a state, a deity, or a man. I refuse to waste my time convincing those who think otherwise. My rights are not arguable.

Doky, she/they

I wasn’t even questioning myself: “Is it worth going to the action of solidarity with the women of Poland?” It was something obvious. Solidarity with other marginalized groups is one of the fundamental ingredients of activism for me. This is not about ‘we have to speak out when they are the ones who the government comes for, because we can be the next.’ I think we should solidarise because the freedom of each and every one is inviolable, and not because we are afraid for the future of our freedom.

Choosing a text for a poster is always a pretty difficult decision for me. Every time I think of what to write, I worry that the slogan will turn out to be too harsh, defiant, or (oh, God!) offensive. So, every time I need to remind myself that my protest should not be ‘convenient’, that the revolution does not work that way. The invented slogan (When the government decides to ban safe abortions, women may decide to abort the government) initially seemed to me more like a cool wordplay than a real political statement. However, after the action, my friend noted that the poster had been photographed a lot, because “it sounded like a direct threat.”

Next, after the activists speak out on the neighbouring state’s issue, there will be those who would like to assault them. Although after reaching this level of absurdity, I can no longer take our ‘opponents’ seriously. Well, really, how can you consider the guys who went out, obviously, to play crusaders and shout ‘Deus vult’ to be genuine activists?

Liza, she/her

After hearing the news from Poland, I was complaining to my friend for an hour: “How can this happen in the 21st century?” As a sociologist, I can give some theoretical explanations, but I am very outraged when it comes to feelings. At the times of Neuralink and the developing social theories, women* (by the general term “women”, I mean the diversity of identities and experiences) are still treated as objects, not people. For me, the issue of abortion is about power and control. In trying to control women’s bodies, the state not only reproduces and produces unequal treatment of women but also violates their rights. I feel a sense of solidarity with Polish women. We have different historical and cultural experiences, but structural gender inequalities are definitely what unites us.

When I was getting ready for the action, I noticed that I worried a lot: what to wear, who to go with, and how to protect myself. During the action itself, I felt joy: it was crucial for me to be there among people who share my values. Although apart from that, I was angry because the police guarded us (activists), and the guys on the other side were absolutely calm. Later, I wrote a post on Instagram about my impressions and received something like threats from them. It is normal to have different views and discuss them, but it is absolutely unacceptable when one group endangers the others. It is also about the unequal distribution of power and authority. This situation depicts how dangerous it is to be a woman. You have to constantly think about your own safety — on the way home or to peaceful action.

Nata, she/her

I think what happened at the action on Monday is a symptom of the situation in general and, at the same time, a miniature of it. Under the pretext of protecting children or women (from themselves), the conservative part of society does everything not to give us informational, cultural, physical space. Therefore, we do not hold the action where we want, which is in front of the embassy, ​​but anywhere we can — across the road, in a close circle of police and the National Guard. First, we are pushed to the wayside, then accused of marginality and finally persecuted. As a result, now we go to the subway accompanied by dozens of National Guards, we go there, even though we don’t need to because each of us knows what is the exchange rate of traditional values to the chances to be beaten in some gateway.

Although the dialogue is impossible and appealing to any arguments doesn’t have sense, the fact of helding an action counter to the ‘guys on the other side of the street’ automatically makes us engage in dialogue. Our answer is a radical one (for what it’s worth a short video where one side of the street is screaming “abortion is a murder”, and the other — “abortion is a right”). We claim our right to public space, our bodies, our own subjectivity — all these things go hand in hand, and I see in it first of all a space for solidarity. When the state, the church, that guy in the old-fashioned coat are interested in my body, all I’m left to do is unite with others — in neighbour’s chats, women’s self-defence grassroots initiatives, on anonymous forums and non-anonymous social networks. And this will always be international solidarity, now with comrades in Poland.

Kateryna, she/her

Apparently, visibility is the key word to explain why it is important for me to participate in feminist projects and actions. The visibility of the problems faced by women and the visibility of the different positions and approaches that can solve them. Grassroots actions give me a sense of notional community, perhaps short-term and heterogeneous in many aspects, but united by a common goal and values. This event was probably the most disturbing of all those that I attended. There is a distinct impression that we came out not only to show solidarity with the Poles but also to remind the Ukrainian authorities of our right to control our bodies. The slogan of women’s protests in Poland, ‘To jest Wojna” (This is War), evokes very strong emotions in me. It reminds us that women, nonbinary and trans people will defend the freedom to choose, not to sacrifice physical and mental health for the sake of someone’s ideas of morality.

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against gender-based violence
On Pride, queer, and freedom to be yourself