Feminists of Kyiv

Brie (FemSolution)

7 March 2023
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: 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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FemkyLive Podcast Quotes

s01e01: Edward Reese

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

We’ve launched a podcast! Unfortunately, we cannot record it in English. But we have translated some quotes for you. The title of the podcast (FemkyLive) refers to the format of its recording. We call the guests in a private chat where other local feminists can join the conversation. Then we publish the recording of the conversation on our Patreon free for everyone!

In the first episode, Edward Reese talks about the changes in his life since we have last interviewed him, gender transition while being nonbinary, and how it is happening in Ukraine. Enjoy!

“In our interview, we talked about me preparing a theatrical project about my experience of domestic violence. However, it just so happens that I attended the first consultation on gender transition in preparation for it. For many years I have been very eager to take certain steps in this direction. I did not have such an opportunity before when I was in an abusive relationship. Now I still do not have the money for it, but I can’t wait anymore. In Ukraine, trans people are obliged to receive a psychiatric diagnosis. When I started attending Pavlov Hospital for consultations, I was so impressed by this place that I somehow forgot about the play on domestic violence. Instead, I will create a performative exhibition on transness and psychiatry.”

“When people talk about trans people, they speak primarily about operations and the practices they see in films. These movies are usually about trans women because they are more visible. Some people do not understand how an actual trans person lives, not a positively or negatively mythologized one. It is almost unknown what is transitioning like for trans men and nonbinary people. So I want to document my experience. I hope that Ukraine will implement ICD-11 next year, according to which transness is not a psychiatric illness. If this happens, trans people will need only to visit a psychotherapist and sexologist.”

“I was generally treated okay at the psychiatric hospital. Nevertheless, I got a letter from a guy who also had been attending it, and he was mocked, bullied, and questioned about his transness. I think this was because he is, first of all, significantly younger than me, and secondly, he is not an activist, nor does he work for an LGBTQ+ organization. So my experience, while being traumatic and scary, is far from the worst thing about this topic. I have an opportunity to make an exhibition and talk about transitioning to a large audience on TikTok, but it’s much harder for other people. I’m doing it partly to get people to start talking about it as there are not so many people who do that.”

“I am a nonbinary person. But for our medicine, nonbinary and queer people don’t exist at all. I’m going through FTM transition because it is the only option. I was scared that a psychiatrist would find me online, look at my pictures, find out how I identify myself. I had to wear the most masculine clothes I had. I stopped shaving my facial hair and using makeup, doing everything to be trusted at that period even though I don’t do that in real life. It was also scary when the nurse questioned me about the meaning of my tattoos and how I got the bruise on my arm (from a blood test I had taken from another nurse at the same hospital). It seemed like she might find some other disorder in me and slow down my transition.”

“I talked to a Norwegian psychotherapist who is a trans person herself, and she told me that they started implementing the ICD-11 principles a few years ago. There, too, trans people have to treat some severe disorders if they have them, but it’s not like in Ukraine, “heal the depression, and then we’ll let you do a gender transition”. In Norway, people can do it simultaneously so that at least they don’t get worse because of what society thinks about them. I was also attending training for trans activists in Stockholm, during which we visited a gender clinic. This is a special clinic that works exclusively with trans and nonbinary people. There I saw for the first time that people could make a non-binary transition, even though at the time there was no option to get papers with a third gender marker in Sweden. They have choices where you get fewer hormones, and this way, you are going through the level of transition you want. There are no standard schemes for everyone. Now I recall this clinic when I go to Pavlov Hospital, and I feel like it’s two different planets.”

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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. Mistrust in the Ukrainian police is explained not only by its low competence in the field of gender-based violence but also by the presence of systemic crimes against humanity committed by the 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 Vradievka 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. For example, domestic violence first comes under the Administrative Code, and in order to be qualified as a criminal offence, violence must be “systematic”. In 2019, the first conviction was passed in Kyiv under the article on domestic violence. The man was sentenced to 3 months in prison only after nine 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 the Rada. The convention would oblige the state to provide effective mechanisms to protect womxn 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 persons, LGBTQ+ and feminist activists are regularly bullied and discriminated against and are 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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This is War

Solidarity action with Polish womxn in Kyiv: reflections of participants

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 the abortion will be legal only in case of a threat to a womxn’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 womxn. 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 womxn 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 womxn.

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 womxn 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

Full text in Russian

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 womxn 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 womxn 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 solidarize 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 womxn (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, womxn’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 womxn 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, non-binary 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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Christina Rupp and Kate Sapsai on their comics about abuse

Description from the comic’s authors: DO NOT BE SILENT is a comic aimed to highlight topics that society has been silent about for a very long time. In the beginning, it was conceived as a project solely about domestic violence, but later the authors realized that it was not enough. Now the comic is composed of pictures representing specific examples of problems and articles that describe these problems. The comic’s slogan is “On what is important. On what hurts. What is not worth keeping quiet about ”.

18 September 2020
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Photographer: Michael Tulsky
Translator: Maryna Isaieva

Presenting themselves:

Christina: We are both lawyers and studied in the same group, that’s how we met. I am currently working in a field related to my academic degree.

Kate: I work as an interpreter for the Canadian police. We conduct courses for Ukrainian police. One of them is on combating domestic violence. That’s how I started exploring this topic. In the course, we discussed risk factors, recognising violence, and how the police should respond to it. I realized that the relationship I was in at that time was like from a textbook: there was no physical violence; however, there was a lot of psychological violence. I managed to get out of this relationship thanks to the information that had become available to me.

Christina: I had the same situation. When you are in an abusive relationship, you usually do not assess the situation from the perspective that your partner is guilty of it. You blame yourself, you think that something is wrong with you, and that’s why everything is so devastating. When we started communicating with Katya, she helped me to realise what was going on…

Kate: Now I perceive it with ease. Sometimes I even start to think that there wasn’t any violence, but then I re-read my old messages and recall my mental state at that time. It was awful. You could say that we were luckier than many other women. We were not married or financially dependent on partners, and we have no children. When we both managed to get out of the abusive relationship, we decided that it’s time to do something to help others.

On the project:

Kate: Comics is an educational project. It aims to raise awareness of domestic and other types of violence. During the last two weeks, we’ve been writing on general topics to set the stage. Further, we plan to talk about domestic violence with specific examples. For many victims, understanding and becoming aware of the situation is the first step towards salvation. I hope that our project is not only going to help some individuals but also to ensure zero tolerance in society to such issues.

Christina: Violence has many manifestations. It is an endless stream of information to be analyzed. Our project is focused primarily on people from Ukraine. The violence issue is relevant everywhere, but in the EU countries, the USA, Canada, the awareness level is much higher. There are certain violence response frameworks for law enforcement agencies and social services for victims. We don’t have any working scheme in Ukraine. There are public organizations, volunteer associations, but there is no state support. Now we are posting not only about domestic violence, as it can’t be separated from other problems and the reality in which we live, like gender inequality, for example.

On feminism:

Kate: As for me, feminism is about equality. All people should have equal rights and opportunities in society. We stand up for women’s rights, but we understand that men also have problems. In the comic, we have already highlighted the gender stereotypes issue relevant to everyone.

Christina: Calling yourself a feminist is already rather a dangerous thing. Although even within the feminist community, you can always fall into the category of “wrong feminists,” which contradicts the main idea. For me, feminism is about women feeling comfortable and living as they consider to be comfortable, doing what they like to do. Sometimes we get negative feedback from those who have a different perception of these things. Our project shows that patriarchy harms everyone.

On the future:

Kate: Perhaps our project will expand in the future, and we will begin to direct our efforts directly to helping the victims, to do some hands-on things. We realize that we are not psychologists. We can advise what to do as lawyers, but before going to the police, the victim needs some psychological preparation. Women often file a police report, and the next day they withdraw it because they are psychologically dependent on the rapist. I would like to establish partnerships with other resources and specialized organizations.

Christina: We would like to act as mediators between those who need help and organizations that can provide it. So far, we have not received requests for assistance from victims. We are only three weeks old, and it seems to me that there is still not a sufficient level of trust in us. We are thinking about creating a form for communication — some place where people can share their stories anonymously, speak out, and know that they are not alone in this world.

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Today we join the #16days international UN Women campaign and introduce #16feminists — survivors and allies — who will share their experience to overcome the stigma around gender-based violence.

25 November – 10 December 2019
Producer: Bozhena Makovska
Photographer: Michael Tulsky
Translator: Maryna Isaieva

Bozhena Makovska, founder of Feminists of Kyiv

“Two things helped me to cope with the experienced violence — feminism and time. Thanks to feminism, I learned about the consent culture. I realised that my body belongs to me, and I should not allow other people to treat me like they want to please them or stay in a relationship. I understood that I should not endure pain. The stories of women from different parts of the world united by the struggle for their life, and its better version, supported me very much. As for time, I began to forget. It’s great to lose in memory the details of what used to paralyze. I am glad to be part of a huge community and help other women in this project. I’ve never felt as strong as I am now.”

Maria Proshkowska, artist

“When I was 9-12 years old, my father used to tell me in detail what could happen if I put on a short skirt or walked alone on the street late in the evening wearing makeup. He worked in law enforcement and was quite a tough person. The whole of my life, I lived being sure that if someone attacks me or rapes me, I will be guilty, like the one who provoked it. Only a few years ago, I learned about an alternative point of view. Nevertheless, I keep observing discussions where people blame the victim of violence and take one or another position on that matter. Now it’s obvious to me that there is only one correct position regarding violence — the rapist is to blame. A lot of my close friends suffer from this, and I can do nothing but support them morally and recommend to ask for help. Unfortunately, we are used to keeping all the problems in the family, and the police do not adequately regulate the problem of violence against women.”

Ulyana Nesheva, artist

“Often, we refuse to listen to our intuition, use the common sense that protects us from danger. It is important to get away from tyranny, humiliation and violence in time. As well as find the strength to respect yourself and value your personality as the most sacred thing. Domestic violence is neither the norm nor the ‘fate’. It is a life-threatening environment from which one has to look for a way out.”

Dinara Kasymbekova, civic activist

“Three years ago I shared a story on Facebook about how I was subjected to harassment and sexual abuse by a cousin. After that, other girls from Kazakhstan followed my example and told how they had been raped by family members. In Kazakhstan, as in Russia, there is no domestic violence law. Those who managed to bring the case to court are heroines for me because apart from the violence itself, they experienced psychological pressure from the police, who tried to “reconcile” them with the rapist, as well as from the relatives of the rapist. There is no responsibility for the “stealing the bride” tradition. Young guys feel so confident now so they can kidnap any girl they like on the street and, at home, together with their parents, persuade her to marry. If they manage to keep the girl at home all night, in the morning the girl’s parents may not let her back at home. This is one of the main causes of suicide among young girls in Kazakhstan.”

Nata Lunio, feminist and eco activist

“For me, one of the most relevant issues now is the language and the way it reflects things that lead to violence. People do things that legitimize violence without thinking: they pave the way for it, make stigmatizing jokes using the discriminatory vocabulary. From time to time, I witness such jokes at work and try to draw the attention of the speaker to their fault, to explain that there is a so-called “pyramid of violence”: it all starts with a joke, then it goes into a stereotype, and eventually physical violence may happen. The problem with gender-based violence is that it takes invisible forms and is born invisible.”

Iryna Slavinska, journalist, gender coordinator of the campaign against sexism “Povaha”

“I first wrote about gender issue in 2012, and then it was unpopular and almost freakish position. In 2015 I joined “Povaha”: we had meetings with representatives of different editions, and there was no need anymore to explain what we were talking about. Nowadays, even more editions feel their commitment to gender equality topics. They wonder how many women are involved in their programs and articles, what vocabulary is chosen to speak about them. The topic of domestic violence is present more systematically in the media due to the #IAmNotAfraidToSay flashmob and #MeToo. Also, it is important to mention that two years ago, people’s deputies did not vote in favour of the Istanbul Convention ratification. This way, the topic has gone beyond the private domain. It turned out that we can talk about it not only in social but also in other dimensions: political and economical.”

Katya Taylor, founder and CEO at Port Agency

“In my life, I have experienced both psychological and physical violence. Now, as an adult, I can fight back, so it’s easy for me to talk about it. It is impossible to threaten or intimidate me. However, even with my character I fell into this trap and was there for a very long time. Also, there are women who cannot stand up for themselves. Their uptightness is caused by the way they were brought up and the structure of our society. Lately, people talk more about the fact that the victim of violence is not to blame, no matter what she was dressed in or how she behaved. Although we still blame ourselves. I would like women who did not find the strength to protect themselves to not despair, and know that there are a lot of other women and men ready to support them. If something happened, it’s important not to be silent. I see no other solution to this problem but to talk out loud about violence as much as possible.”

Olga Diachuk, HeForShe Ukraine coordinator

“HeForShe is a solidarity movement, and our main tool is communication. By means of online and offline projects for everybody and not only for people in the know, we want to increase the number of supporters of gender equality. We have often heard that this problem exists, but it is somewhere far away. This is a misleading idea because, at first, violence is difficult to recognize, and second, it often goes unreported. Not only the consequences but also the causes of violence must be addressed. Theses about “buying pepper spray for all the girls” or “send them all on self-defence classes” are very popular in our discussions, frequently expressed by men who thus take care of their wives, sisters, daughters and girlfriends. It is extremely important for us to explain to them the need to change men’s behaviour and the way boys are brought up.”

Darya Svetlova, art director

“I was raised by a single mother, and together with her, I had to be stronger. That’s why I guess I developed a deep resentment towards traditional gender roles. The difficulties that I had to cope with as a child encouraged me a lot in my life — I managed to get out of an abusive relationship with a guy I was in for a year. Just at some point, I analyzed my current life and never wanted to come back to this. But I was lucky, I supported myself. If a woman is financially dependent, she has nowhere to go. Then, obviously, it is very difficult. It is important to remember that you are you, and you are a person.”

Photo: Roksolana Potsyurko

Hrystyna Kit, head of Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem”

“We have to work as efficiently as possible to prevent violence against women and to take measures to protect victims. That’s what legal mechanisms are for. Istanbul convention still hasn’t been ratified, but the standards of the Convention were partially introduced into new Ukrainian legislation. We just have to start working on and applying them. Our organisation develops methodological recommendations on identifying gender discrimination as well as the algorithm of legal assistance to women. On the basis of “Legal Feminism: Activism, Lawyering, and Legal Theory” work on feminist jurisprudence, we’ll be implementing the “Gender equality and women’s rights” course in law schools. It’s important for us that the legal community provides gender-sensitive legal services and understands which challenges and issues men and women have to face in access to justice.”

Darina Dmitriievskaya, M.D., lecturer

“Two years ago I attended the training of NGO Insight for doctors and started to work with transgender people. Thanks to the reform, patients in Ukraine can now choose any doctor they want: word of mouth has worked, and now among my patients, there are about 100 trans people from all over the country. The medical community is still very conservative and paternalistic. So, I joined the team of trainers who instruct doctors from other regions and cities. When I myself experienced psychological violence, LGBTQ community supported me a lot. Other people’s stories and articles on gaslighting were also very helpful. I realize that I have a whole set of social privileges that make people listen to me: I am a white cis woman, a mother, and a doctor. I try to use my privileges in the right way.”

Edward Reese, non-binary, queer activist, blogger, performer at PostPlay Theater

“I was in a toxic relationship for 12 and a half years. This was a relationship between two transgender people, and I had suffered from all possible kinds of violence: physical, sexual, psychological and financial. Even though most rapists are men, it can also be done by women, non-binary and trans people. My partner regularly acted out different roles; one of his favourites was Joker. That’s why romanticizing abusers in pop-culture is a serious issue we should fight with. Mysterious manipulators who force you to obey them are neither romantic nor beautiful. I wish young boys and girls wouldn’t fall for it. Psychotherapy, videos about abuse, and support groups on Facebook helped me realise what was going on. I managed to run off to another city, and now this story is left in the past. However, I think we should talk about violence as much as we can, and for me personally, it’s important to mention that it happens in LGBT couples too.”

Olena Shevchenko, head of Insight LGBTQ NGO

“It is considered that if you are a lesbian, something is wrong with you and you just ‘haven’t met the right guy’. You can often hear stories from African countries about parents who hire men to rape their daughters in hopes of turning them ‘straight’. In Ukraine the situation is somewhat different, young women mostly from religious families are pressured into marriage with a man. I know the situations when parents set up their gay daughters with men counting on physical contact between them which will cause pregnancy and therefore lead to marriage. Lots of girls may not describe it as an act of violence. Our organisation provides all possible assistance to women survivors of violence and primarily a psychological one.”

Dzvenyslava Shcherba, volunteer, Amnesty International Ukraine activist

“I come from the western part of Ukraine, and my family is highly conservative: they have imposed their religious beliefs on me since childhood. I watched how they were fighting, and my dad threatened my mom to leave her. I tried to protect her, but obviously, I couldn’t do that as I was a kid. When the war started, my classmates and I were volunteering in a military hospital, and one of the officers harassed me. I didn’t know what to do, attempted to take off his hand, which he almost had put in my underwear. It was horrible. Everybody, including other officers and hospital workers, saw that but did nothing. When I told my parents about it, they blamed me. As I became a feminist and LGBT activist, I was accused of going against traditions and family. Nevertheless, I keep attending and organising actions because it is very important for me.”

Tetyana Kuzmenko, activist, Cannabis Freedom March speaker

“Dad’s friend was molesting me. I was around 6 or 8 years old and it was going on for a while. When my daughter got to that age, I decided to tell everything to my mum. The thing I heard from her just killed me. She said that everybody had difficulties in their lives. The women of her age are used to feel and hide their pain, find violence acceptable. I educate my daughter in a manner that the next generation will have the ability to empathize. I ask her what she wants and can I hug or kiss her; prohibit other people to tell her what to do and break her personal boundaries. I myself often experience violence and the only thing that saves me is my inner strength. I love life, so I have to fight for it and for a smile on my face.”

Marta Huda, volunteer and activist

“People who don’t perceive violation as a crime normalize it. Like when they’re saying: ‘I don’t do anything wrong’, ‘I didn’t mean that’ or ‘it’s all your imagination’. When you clearly say what you want, and someone disregards it, invades your privacy — that is violence. At moments like these, it’s so great to find support in somebody. Back in the day, I didn’t realise what harassment is and was afraid to talk about it. I was scared that someone would blame me and ask something like, “Why have you drank?.” Now there are people who are ready to listen to me. I talk through my traumatic experiences with them, write and talk about it publicly, so that way, I can ease the suffering.”

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Marina Herz

On Pride, queer, and freedom to be yourself

15 November 2019
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

Queer for me is a rejection of the need to define myself, my sexuality, and names. The theory of sexuality does not stand up to criticism regarding the non-binary nature of sex, it does not include intersex people. For example, I was married to a man, had a relationship with a lesbian, with a trans woman, and a trans man, non-binary and agender people. Who am I? What is my orientation?

I became an LGBTQ activist in 2011 when I fell in love with a girl. At that time, I was married to a man, and I saw that my relationship with my husband and my relationship with a girl were perceived differently by society. I googled if there were LGBT people in Russia, and found an organization in my city. At first, I was a volunteer, then an activist, and later — the coordinator of the community centre. At some point, my feminist position was formed, and I created the Gerbera initiative. We were the first to organize a rally on March 8 in Tyumen, conduct seminars on violence and women’s rights, and also participated in the “Eve’s Ribs” festival for several years in a row. After I moved to Kyiv, other Gerbera participants continued to work, the initiative still exists.

Even before the law on “LGBT propaganda” was adopted in Russia, I was a living book at the festival, and some man filed a petition against me to the prosecutor’s office. I had to visit it and give evidence, even though there was not even a relevant law. For feminist activism and street actions, a file was brought against me at the Center for Combating Extremism. It was difficult to continue working in Russia. Then I was offered a place in Gay Alliance Ukraine, everything worked out successfully, and I moved. In Kyiv I felt more freedom. It’s here where my activism began to flow. However, people did not know who I was, and I needed to collect social capital again.

In 2016, I first went to Pride and felt the opportunity to be myself  — in Russia, this is basically impossible. For LGBTQ people in Tyumen, there are only two places where you can go: a club where parties are held and a community centre for events and psychological support groups. Some people go to both places, some separate. People who come to the club hide all week who they are, and only there they can relax, dance under the influence of alcohol, love each other, and be free for several hours. I was very sad to look at them and be aware of this.

Marina Herz

“It has always been difficult for me to define myself, especially as a teenager.”

I reflect a lot on masculinity and femininity. My friends pay attention that I often choose masculine patterns of behaviour, and I agree  — this is how I feel more confident. It has always been difficult for me to define myself, especially as a teenager. I remember the first grade of school when I sat at a concert in the front row, legs wide apart. It fell into the photographs, all high school students laughed at me, and my mother scolded me. To the phrase “You are a girl!” I always answered: “I am not a girl. I am Marina. Leave me alone.”

When I started to engage in LGBT+ activism, I learned about the term “agender.” For a while, I called myself an agender and non-binary person. At that time, I had severe dysphoria. I took hormonal drugs as I wanted to make the transition and undergo a mastectomy. Although the pills greatly worsened my health, and I abandoned this idea. In 2015, I learned about queer theory: I read books and went to seminars with a partner, a transgender man who suffered from his own transphobia. We began to understand the theory together. It helped him to accept himself and greatly changed my worldview. Even though now I am positioning myself as a queer person, it is important for me to voice that I am a political lesbian. I speak of myself in the feminine gender, advocate for the rights of lesbians, and the rights of women, when necessary.

I was not happy with the representation of queer and trans people at Kyiv Pride, and in 2017 I decided to go to the organizing committee to change the situation from the inside. Later, I started working at Kyiv Pride projects, first as a trainer, then as a program coordinator. This year I was responsible for the conceptual content of the Pride program. Six people stably lead the projects, but there is another vital part of the team: the volunteers, without whom there would be no Pride. During Pride Week (a series of educational events), they help us undergo first aid training and monitor safety on the march.

Now we are trying to strengthen our institutional capacity, organize a system of work. The organisation’s main goal that we elaborated on strategic planning is to increase the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine. Kyiv Pride is one of the first public and largest LGBTQ+ events in the country. Therefore, one of our activity directions is the development of regional initiatives, in the framework of which we allocate grants and support activists, teach them how to write applications, conduct a dialogue with the police, and how to mobilize the community.

“To organize a Pride march is insanely hard. We encounter great resistance from the state and even in the LGBTQ+ community itself.”

We have to balance all the time. For example, the community criticizes us for censoring posters, while restrictions were put by the police as a prerequisite for the march. Between us, we call July “the month of the corpse” because, at that time, we are on the verge of our physical abilities and emotional resources. I myself came to Kyiv Pride because of criticism, but now I began to treat it differently: it is easy to criticize from the outside, not knowing what difficulties we are facing and what resources we have (or do not have at all).

This year, we made a paid entrance to the party for the first time because we could not pay for its organization. Donors do not support such events, but we think that parties are important for the community. It’s about freedom and self-expression. A stream of criticism fell upon us. People demanded financial reports, wrote angry posts on social networks. It was hard for me to cope with this, but I try not to lose contact with myself, my feelings, and my needs. I always ask: “How would you do it differently?”

“Queer theory is important, but this concept is not yet available to people.”

LGBTQ organizations have both sexism and misogyny. It can be challenging to agree because everyone has different agendas and a vision of work. There is no single community, even in Ukraine, and common values within it. At least I don’t believe that. Working with donors is also not easy. There are criteria, indicators, and they must be met. Sometimes I have to be more flexible than I would like, but without their support, we would not be able to cope. We live in a capitalist society where you have to pay for everything, and activists also need to eat something.

In media campaigns, the “born this way” rhetoric predominates because it’s easier to explain with it. I do not know if this is bad — I’m at a crossroads so far. When I myself became an activist and did not understand the queer theory, it was also easier for me to accept this position, and for a while, I supported it. People need stereotypes, this is how our brain works. Now Pride has become popular because it has become clear.

This year I taught the Ukrainian police, and we examined a real case — an attack on a lesbian. The attackers decided that she was a guy, began to scold her and beat her, and the police refused to accept the statement. At the training, many said: “So let her sit at home!” and “Let her find a man!” I had to explain such things that men and women are equal, that LGBTQ people exist. Queer theory is important, but this concept is not yet available to people. I don’t know what to do with it. What message can be formulated so that it does not contradict our beliefs but is understandable to people? So far, I am in search of an answer, how to be understood, and at the same time not to lose myself.

The representation of queer and trans people is still insufficient, but the situation is changing. This year, for the first time, a full-fledged trans day was held on Pride Week, the opening of the exhibition, and events dedicated to the problems of trans people. Now we are thinking about projects that can increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ people who experience cross-discrimination. For the LGBTQ military, this is, for example, the safety of a coming out. LGBTQ people with disabilities face ableism and xenophobia both within the community and society as a whole. We also had a positive experience of holding an event about Roma LGBT. I believe that visibility is one of the tools to overcome homophobia and transphobia, and it really matters to me.

“I do not want to hide who I am to reduce my expression. I want to be myself — in the urban, information space — just to be.”

Earlier, activism seemed to be an endless swamp in which I flounder but see no results. Now everything is different. I began to see changes over the past year: attitudes toward the Pride have changed, interest has grown, more and more support is coming from people and other institutions. Pride’s positioning has also changed. Our last year’s slogan, “The Land of the Free— Be Yourself”, is very close to me personally. I do not want to hide who I am to reduce my expression. I want to be myself — in the urban, information space — just to be. I plan to spend the next two years in Ukraine and continue to work at the Pride, and after two years, I do not think. I have chronic depression. Now I am undergoing treatment and taking care of myself. Not responding to work messages after eight in the evening can be difficult due to the irregular schedule, but I try to balance it. I like to walk, read books, play ukulele, and sing in my free time. Such banal advice as a full sleep and walks in nature, for me, really works.

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