Ukrainian trans women ‘trapped in Kyiv’ as Russian forces advance on capital

Zi Faámelu, a trans singer in Ukraine

Many trans women are not being permitted to flee Ukraine, it has been reported, with one woman describing Russia’s invasion as a “war within a war” for trans folk.

Kyiv’s mayor said Wednesday (2 March) that Russian forces are gathering “closer and closer” to the capital – but that “Kyiv stands and will stand”.

One citizen who remains in the capital is Zi Faámelu, a musician best-known in Ukraine for competing in the competition show Star Factory. She has been hiding in her Kyiv apartment as gunfire and missiles get closer.

She is starting to run out of food, she told CBS News, but is scared to leave home not just because of war – but also because she fears for her safety as a trans woman. Faámelu described life as a trans person in Ukraine as “bleak” and fears that the violence could easily turn transphobic.

“Many people have guns and weapons… It can be an excuse for violence,” she said. “This is a very scary situation.”

Faámelu fears that even if she managed to reach the Ukrainian border, she would not be allowed to cross because her passport does not align with her gender.

Activists on the ground told the TGEU (Transgender Europe) network that trans people with documents that don’t their gender “cannot pass internal check-points”, and that trans women of fighting age with a male gender marker on their passport are being made to stay in the country as potential recruits.

Ukrainian men – and by extension, any person with a male gender marker on their legal documents – aged 18 to 60 have been banned from leaving the country.

“This is not a very rainbow-friendly place… Lives for trans people are very bleak here,” Faámelu added.

“If you have a male gender in your passport, they will not let you go abroad. They will not let you through… [It’s] a war within a war, truly.”

However, she added that she still has faith that Ukrainian forces can defeat Russia.

She said: “There’s something about Ukrainians, they are very optimistic and joyful people… They never give up.

“You don’t know if you’re going to be alive the next morning. So what are you going to do? I just prefer to dance in the kitchen, to be honest.

Because if this is the last moment of my life, I just want to celebrate. I just want to dance.”

Until 2017, Ukraine required a diagnosis of “transexuality” for trans people to change their legal gender. This meant spending a month in a psychiatric hospital so a board of mental health professionals could make the diagnosis.

Although the process has since been simplified, it is far from easy. Being trans is still considered a psychiatric disorder, and a diagnosis through outpatient appointments is still required.