Feminists of Kyiv


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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Olesia Onykiienko (NFNR)

On women’s electronic music scene and exploration of the sound

30 October 2019
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

For someone I’m not radical enough to be a feminist, others consider me to be a feminist as I’m promoting women’s interests. I’m not a civic activist; my key area is music. I’m not sure I do enough to call myself like that.

I wish for a long time to create some female musical initiative, so Sasha Dolgiy invited me to lead the project Womens Sound in the Institute of Sound. This is a cultural and educational public organization created to support musicians. Institute has an interest in developing modern electronic music, opening new schools where beginners could study and practice for free.

Together with Sasha, Karina Lazaruk and other musicians, we arrange performances in different Ukraine cities, organize parties and give lectures. Sometimes we are looking for local female performers and invite them to play with us. The duration of sets varies the same as the experience of participants. If the concert is at night, we make the free donation entry fee, but mostly it’s free. One of the main goals of such events is to find each other and form a community. Women musicians in Ukraine are quite isolated, and some are afraid to begin. For example, after the lecture in Severodonetsk, few girls came to us. They told us they would like to play electronic music and develop in this area. They hadn’t seen any sense in it before, as the music scene is male-dominated. As a result, we are not only exchanging information but also providing psychological support. It’s an important part of my guidance.

Womens Sound is the exploration for ourselves and work in progress.

Some people demand from us to take a clearer position, be more radical although I don’t think we should. For me, Womens Sound is the exploration for ourselves and work in progress including the search of the language and definition of the problems which cause a small presence of women in line-ups. At the moment we are quite idealistic and open-minded, our goal is to increase the presence of women, not to separate them from men. Surely there is an issue of providing a safe space, we are ready to work with guys but we are striving to avoid psychological violence and dominance from their side. Others say: “By calling yourselves Womens Sound you humiliate and disvalue female musicians”, however Womens Sound is the sound created by women. Even if we call it female music, I don’t see any humiliation. Why everything female is perceived as less valuable?

I was born in Kyiv but went to Lviv to become a conductor. After the Orange Revolution, I had so much energy, and I hoped to immerse myself there in the culture environment. But it didn’t happen. I couldn’t find associates, and there were no places to perform with sets in Lviv. I realised I didn’t want to stay there and wanted to come back home. Being in Kyiv, I decided to enter the National University of culture and arts, but at the last moment, the exam was relocated to another building for unknown reasons. A few other applicants and I got late while searching for the right building. Finally, the examiner let in only three boys who came with all the girls, and we were left outside.

Music education in Ukraine is quite conservative. In Lviv, we were taught to write by ear and afterwards were corrected. No one teaches avant-garde music of the XXth century, and nobody understands it at all; everything ends with Rakhmaninov and Debussy. However, students have a great request for that: together with the Institute of sound, we gave lectures in the pedagogical school and gathered a full hall. Despite all the difficulties, I continued playing music mostly because of my idealism, stubbornness, and naivety. Also, I felt that in music, I can express and understand much more than people in my surroundings. This feeling held me tight.

It was interesting  to process and create our own imaginative worlds.

I composed before the University, but my first job as a composer I got in the theatre when someone recommended me. After that, the theatre director moved to another one where there was no recording studio, so I’ve learnt how to record it by myself. I was very encouraged by the possibility to process and explore the sound myself; many opportunities opened up, I felt very relieved. As a child, I did not have access to music. I do not come from an intellectual family. Then there was no Internet for a long time, and I listened to avant-garde records on disks. I have an academic background, so I was not acknowledged with electronic music until I started recording it.

I started performing in 2014 in Ether. It was there where I found a community that I had lacked in Lviv. My friends and I started doing experimental hearings at the Mala Gallery. We recorded the sounds of different areas of the city, Podil, the Botanical Garden, I recorded the noise of trams, and Maxim Werner  — the current in the wires. It was interesting to process and create our own imaginative worlds. The events were in great demand. Later, in the Plivka art space, we continued the experiment: we recorded different water states, the noise of polyethylene, glass, and tearing of fabrics. Our goal was to attract “non-musicians” to experiment, record sounds, perform as they can. I’d like to return to this practice. I am interested in exploring society’s involvement in musical activity, interacting with sound, listening, overcoming the concept of “music for professional musicians.” My relatives told me: “You are not Chopin,” and I would like more people to stop so dictatorially restricting others and themselves.

Working with artists, especially regarding social issues, helps me better understand my cultural process role.

I played with different musicians. Not everyone comes out to feel each other, let their inner artists open up, and play another way. With Ira Novikova (insomnia taxxi) we get something completely different from the fact that we play separately. This is probably best described as avant-garde techno. With Ira, we also play with the Swedes Skallahavet and Birds ov Paradise.

In 2018, together with Katya Berlova, we participated in the residency of the 86 film festival in Slavutich. It was a project-intervention in the urban environment: we went down to the sewer and arranged a rave underground. Most of the time, we spent negotiating with public utilities to get permission. We did not announce the performance itself, and festival visitors simply followed the hatches’ sound and light. Similar invasion of city space Katya and I and our project Deus ex machina carried out in Dnipro: we explored the subway, which few people use. We decided to place the rave at the factory passage. I played industrial techno at 7 in the morning, and at the same time, we filmed young people on the subway who were coming back home. The works were presented in the Art Svit gallery in Dnipro.

The last collaboration, the one very memorable for me, took place last year at a residence near Berlin. We worked with a step dancer: she danced on different surfaces, for example, a cornfield with leftover cut stalks. I was looking for locations and recorded sound. In addition, we presented a video project and made a joint presentation. Working with artists, especially regarding social issues, helps me better understand my cultural process role. Musicians are an outlet for society, a portal to an interesting world. Like science fiction writers, we form an alternative reality and a different worldview: non-conformal and very freedom-loving. This skill should be trained with every performance, in every composition, in any creative act.

I see absolutely groundless doubts among original, powerful musicians, insecurity, torment, intense tension caused by psychological barriers and lack of a familiar environment. Probably, my experience of an absolute lack of support from relatives, and almost all my friends, when it was essential, the state of despair because of this, helps me to understand these girls better. I also face difficulties in the professional field as a theatre composer and musician. For example, it is especially tough with sound engineers: often, I need to take a stand, prove professionalism, or simply seek technical personnel to fulfil my decisions if they are men. I feel sick of an indulgent attitude everywhere, especially in state institutions and among doctors. For me, this is a self-identification problem that I want to work on. Back in the day, the comparison of my creative achievements with men’s ones was flattering me. Sadly, it pleased me then.

I feel sick of an indulgent attitude everywhere.

My piano teacher at the school did a great job on my self-confidence, self-presentation and complexes. I also was teaching music to children for a long time, and I know that you need to be a psychologist too. Practical things, such as technical assistance in the first performance, really help, but, in general, attention to your creativity is significant: response, request for performances, recordings, even social media coverage. I also often believe that female musicians do not trust their inner intuition or cannot find something of their own. They copy what other musicians do and can create a high-quality product but completely deprived of personality. I would advise those who are just starting to work with sound to focus on their experience and state, personal aesthetics, try to look for their language. Technical skills can always be developed.

Self-organization is almost the only opportunity to speak actively.

Even in big cities, musicians have to do it themselves: organize performances, parties, and their own communities. We work on this problem at the Sound Institute and Womens Sound. We seek funding to develop musical communities in the regions, educational events, and communications with electronic festivals in other cities. We publish Womens Sound live on Mixcloud. People can also send us tracks — you can find contacts on our Facebook. Shortly, we plan to launch a podcast and talk about female artists, invite them to the studio and discuss the challenges women face in the music sphere. At the end of October, we will present the project in Berlin, in Das Kapital. Together with Nastya Noisynth, we will perform in Prague with the Synth Library Prague – ZVUK community on November 27th. To some joint events we are invited, like in Berlin, we are still investing our money to visit friends there. There are many proposals, but now we need support from cultural institutions; the amount of work is gigantic. We want to continue working with Konstmusiksystrar and with other women’s communities. If we can get funding, we will make a festival — an educational forum with electronic music workshops, collaborations, and a residence.

When we first started doing the project, I did not think of how my life would change. Over the past year, I have made a lot of acquaintances. I’ve got more opportunities to perform, to do interesting events. And the existence of a stable active community only strengthens this, as does the demand for electronics, avant-garde music, experiments with sound. All of that makes me very encouraged as an artist.

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Valeriya Zubatenko

On gender studies, radical attacks, and relationship with her body

Trigger Warning: the article mentions violation, self-harm and eating disorders.

31 August 2019
Editor: Bozhena Makovska
Translator: Maryna Isaieva
Photographer: Michael Tulsky

The fact of gender inequality in society I started to notice as a child, but I did not know what to call it. At school, in physical education classes, boys always went to play football, and girls were sent to “stretch out.” Once I joined the game and accidentally hit a guy in the stomach with a ball, he burst into tears and insulted me. Since then, I have been embarrassed to join them again. I was afraid of doing something wrong, spoiling everything, failing the team, so everyone would think it happened because I’m a girl and not because I’m a human being who can make mistakes.

I grew up in Zaporizhzhia, and for a long time, I had no friends, or at least I thought so. I spent a lot of time at home and entertained myself. For example, I opened a home hairdresser: made hairstyles for myself, dressed up in mother’s clothes, jumped from the closet with an umbrella because I wanted to fly. I was unhappy with my body, and people in my environment exacerbated this feeling. One of these days, I took duct tape and started wrapping it tightly around my belly to see how I would look like if I were skinny. Then my hands went numb. I could not breathe and hastily tried to find scissors. It was horrifying. I always mention this story in conversations about body-positive; that’s what beauty standards and cellulite jokes can do to a child.

As a teenager, I realized that I’m bisexual, and someday I can fall in love with a girl. I went to university and started working as a journalist in a local editorial. There I met girls who did not hide their relationship: we listened to “Night Snipers” and hung out together. Once at a concert by Diana Arbenina (lead singer of the group Night Snipers), a volunteer of the LGBT fund “Gender Z” approached us and invited us to visit them. Gender Z organized various events and games, and they also had psychological support groups for LGBTQ+ people. When I first came to them, my expectations did not coincide with reality: I thought it would be some sapphic poetry club! However, I liked the people who worked there and the way they created a safe space. I realized that I also want to do social work, help people as a volunteer, or have a permanent job in this area. There I became interested in feminism.

In Gender Z, I met my future girlfriend. We went on a date, and soon after that she went to Italy for a long time, her parents lived there. Then we started chatting all day. I was immersed in texting and, surely, my mother noticed this as we shared one PC. At that time, my mother tried to arrange my personal life and was setting me up with various men. It annoyed me a lot. The last time she did it, I could not stand it and confessed that I was chatting not simply with my friend but with the girl I love. It shocked her. I tried to explain that she was not guilty of anything that I was happy, and that was the most important thing. Mom could not accept me for a long time, and when Lena arrived, she met her coldly, with resentment. However, over time, everything worked out: mom loved Lena for her personality, she practically lived with us. After coming-out, one of my friends was kicked out of the house, so I think I’m lucky.

Valeriya Zubatenko

When I entered the Faculty of Philosophy at National Pedagogical Dragomanov University in Kyiv, I already knew that I wanted to study gender studies through philosophy. There was nothing about gender in the curriculum, so I started studying on my own and searched for information on the Internet. The first year I was not involved in activism because I did not know where to start. Together with my girlfriend, we moved to Kyiv and lived in my friend’s apartment while looking for a place. It was the time after the Maidan, quite tense period in Zaporizhzhia. People were waiting for the troops to enter the city. All our neighbours were making bomb shelters in the basements and stocking up on food. We weren’t sure whether mom could keep sending me money. Then my friend’s parents said that we didn’t need to look for anything and could live all together. Fortunately, the size of the apartment allowed it.

I did not like the way they teach at the university and did not communicate with other students. I continued to attend classes, and the rest of the time, I could not force myself to get up from the couch. All year I suffered from severe insomnia, depression and eating disorders.

No matter how much I exercised, it was not enough for me. My efforts appeared to be incommensurable with the result.

Back to Zaporizhzhia, followed by the desire to lose weight and change my life, I started to attend a ballet studio. I continued practicing it in Kyiv almost every day and achieved significant success. No matter how much I exercised, it was not enough for me. My efforts appeared to be incommensurable with the result. I was worried about what and how I eat. It seemed like I need to eat even less. For a while, I stopped drinking water. I was aware that all of this was abnormal and wrong. If I knew that someone else was doing this … I don’t know what I would do. Although I myself could not stop. Analyzing those events now, I conclude that this way, I tried to get out of codependent relationships and take control of my body. We broke up with a girlfriend, fell out with my friend, and I had to move on. Soon there was nothing to pay for a new apartment. At that time, I already had a dog, but there was neither food nor money. I was deeply depressed all over again. One of my old friends helped me a lot: he walked a dog, called me to dinner, and finally moved to me. Gradually, I began to feel better, and I got back to things I always wanted to do.

Valeriya Zubatenko

There were many sexist moments in our university, and I felt that I had to do something about it. I started talking with classmates, and one of them brought me to the LGBTQ organization, “Insight.” There I learned more about LGBT activism in Kyiv. Soon, I began engaging in activism: I wrote articles, went to events, and planned some of them at the university, including feminist readings for International Women’s Day. That’s how a student initiative, “Borsch”, was created. Initially, the title was chosen just for fun, but over time it turned into our main idea: we wanted to show well-known things from the other side, thus destroying gender stereotypes. In the Ukrainian context, borsch is associated with the image of a “women-keeper,” but in reality, it’s just a dish that everyone can cook. As part of the initiative, we provided lectures and discussions at Dragomanov University and in Zaporizhzhia, feminist readings and a cinema club. We also planned to maintain pages on social networks, but it turned out to be too resource-intensive. For the same reason, the initiative fell apart.

It was important for me that the club could function in a safe and, at the same time, open space.

After that, a teacher from the faculty of religious studies, who was aware of my activities, contacted me. She offered to create a gender discussion club, and we began to work on its concept together. It was important for me that the club could function in a safe and, at the same time, open space. This way, students and people who could not get higher education would be welcomed there. That’s why we chose the free art space “Sklo” at the university. The first club meeting already attended ultra-right group representatives. They did not hide their intention to disrupt the event and insisted on entering since we were “open.” I listened to their requirements and spoke out the internal rules of conduct in the club. When they refused to abide by them, I closed the door. That day the meeting was successful.

The next time these guys brought in elder colleagues — leaders of ultra-right organizations. They prevented us from opening and filmed everything on camera; it was already impossible to besiege them. I didn’t know if I could call the police. Students called a representative of the administration, but instead of forcing them to leave, she invited us to discuss the conflict. For an hour and a half, we listened to their demands all over again, and when it became unbearable, I declared the meeting closed. As it turned out later, someone called the police,  one of the right-wing radicals brandished a knife on the street, and then helped his friend to remove the EU flag from the university building and trample it. The patrol arrived a few hours later and did nothing.

Valeriya Zubatenko

“I hoped that the publicity would prevent them from hushing up the case, but in the end, no one was punished.”

We held the third meeting of the gender club at another university, and everything went calmly. The fourth session was transferred back to Sklo. It was the end of December 2017, few people came on New Year’s Eve; and at first, I was upset. The next moment three men in balaclavas burst into the room. I recognized two of them: the guy with a knife and his friend who tore the flag. They began to pepper-spray everybody, and several people were injured. The university security guard passively observed and allowed them to leave. I understood that I had to find out who had been that third guy so that the police could identify him. In the heat of passion, I ran after him and tried to tear off his mask, but it didn’t work out: they splattered my face, hit me with the door, and ran away. I quickly recovered and called an ambulance. A friend of the teacher took us to the police station, where we talked for a long time about everything that had happened. The police recorded this and even showed me photographs of the people I spoke about in the database. For a long time, they refused to give the case number. I had to ask friends to send media inquiries, and one of them was responded. They told me that no proof of corpus delicti had been found since I (the victim) had refused to undergo a forensic medical examination. But no one even offered me to go through it.

After that, the head of the student council publicly accused me of what had happened. They blamed me for realising that it would be so and that I had endangered the club members as I hadn’t hired private security, accused me of PR. The university administration began to put pressure on teachers and forbade us to gather. Then I threw all my energy into creating a resonance: I wrote to the Ministry articles for the media, asked human rights organizations and others to send letters to the rector. I hoped that the publicity would prevent them from hushing up the case, but in the end, no one was punished. The attackers continued to attend classes. Everyone at the university knew that they had done it, but no one condemned their actions. This was my last course, and I finished it to get a diploma.

Valeriya Zubatenko

A little later than in a year, Alyona Mamay wrote to me with an offer to become a co-curator of the exhibition “Vykhovni  Acty” (“Education acts”). I was delighted with this opportunity because, at that moment, I was exhausted by the struggle and disappointed with its results. This way, I could show the university administration that I was not giving up. The exhibition was devoted to censorship and various forms of violence in society, including right-wing radical violence. It was important for Alyona to do it in “Sklo.” The curator of the space supported this idea for some reason. We obtained the endorsement and set to work. At first, we invested personal funds in creating works by artists, and when the money ran out, we asked for help.

I negotiated with the police, and they provided security for us. We were ready for attacks, although right-wing radicals didn’t appear at the event. Instead of it, they intimidated the curator of the art space. The university administration also put pressure on her, and in the end, they decided to close the exhibition. We asked for time to dismantle the works, as parts of them were large-scale, and announced a protest rally demanding the administration to voice its position. This time we had much more support, some reporters arrived, but they were not allowed inside. Alyona and I could get to Sklo and decided to stay there until our requirements would be met. In the evening, the vice-rector responsible for placement arrived there — he insulted us, attacked the journalist of Hromadske TV, but in the end, agreed to speak at a press conference. After a while, someone took all our works to the police station, where they are still being held for unknown reasons. Despite the great resonance in the media, the press conference did not happen. Everybody at the university acted as nothing had happened.

This trip was the last straw for me.

At the end of May, “Insight” invited Alyona and me to the “Equality Festival” in Chernivtsi, with a lecture on political art, where we could talk about our exhibition. We arrived and smoothly got to the festival. Still, protesters began to gather under the building: members of religious organizations, representatives of the clergy, right-wing radicals, whose faces we already knew, and people in military uniforms. We were informed about the mines, after which the protesters entered the building. The evacuation began, during which the priest fanned us with a censer and read a prayer. He pushed me into a cloud of gas, which the ultra-right sprayed below, with the words: “Ladies — go ahead.” Police cordoned off the entrance. The private security that the festival hired opened the umbrellas, and under them, wrapped in scarves, we went outside. Opponents tried to break through the cordon, shouting to the police: “You are not real men if you protect them. Give them to us. We know what to do with them!” Someone threw a hammer in our direction, but, fortunately, no one was hurt. This trip was the last straw for me. I returned to Kyiv and ended up in the hospital with nervous exhaustion.

For a long time, I could not do anything. I tried to recover and started doing something else. That summer, the sewing cooperative “ReSew” announced the project “Dream clothes that do not exist” — a series of workshops for people from the LGBTQ+ community who find it difficult to find clothes in the mass market. I passed the selection and sewed a wedding dress. In Ukraine, I could not wear it for my own wedding — we have banned same-sex marriage, but I specially made the dress comfortable for me to walk in it every day. I also planned to embroider the inside of the hem with quotes from Hole songs, verses by Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, but I ran out of time. The whole process turned out to be much more complicated than I imagined. I had to dissolve the dress and alter it again many times. We worked for hours, I completely focused on sewing, and this became therapy for me. When I put on a dress I sewed myself, I experienced joy — now it is one of my favourites. With activism, everything is more complicated. I know that I will not see the result of my efforts, but the thought that I am approaching helps me not give up.

Valeriya Zubatenko
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