Ukraine should be celebrating independence. Instead, its people are fighting to survive

An image of a family fleeing violence in Ukraine. The family are silhouetted in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

Ukraine’s independence day is supposed to be a day of celebration and defiance, marking the day Ukraine threw off the shackles of Russian colonial rule.

Instead, this year, the country is bracing for increased Russian aggression.

Six months into Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that independence day (24 August) could prompt “repugnant provocations” from the Kremlin.

Instead of taking to the streets in celebration, public gatherings have been banned in Kyiv, while curfews have been put in place in some cities.

A woman with two children and carrying bags walk on a street to leave Ukraine after crossing the Slovak-Ukrainian border in Ubla, eastern Slovakia, close to the Ukrainian city of Welykyj Beresnyj, on February 25, 2022.

A woman with two children walk leave Ukraine after crossing the Slovak-Ukrainian border in Ubla, eastern Slovakia, close to the Ukrainian city of Welykyj Beresnyj, on 25 February, 2022. (Peter Lazar/AFP via Getty)

It must be a profoundly difficult time for the Ukrainian people – but their independence day should also serve as an important reminder of their strength and resilience.

The country has fought back fiercely against Russia’s invasion, and communities have come together to offer protection wherever they can.

And few groups have demonstrated that commitment quite like Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community.

Activists have set up LGBTQ+ shelters to help their community weather the storm; they’ve made sure queer people are having their basic needs met, from food and shelter right up to HIV medication and hormone treatments.

That kind of work is important because LGBTQ+ people face specific challenges in wartime. Activists have reported an uptick in homophobia and transphobia, sometimes perpetuated by their own defence forces, since Russia invaded in February.

A Ukrainian person holds a sign reading "Ukraine" at a protest outside Downing Street against the recent invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 in London, England.

Ukrainians demonstrate outside Downing Street against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)

Anna Leonova, director of Gay Alliance Ukraine, told PinkNews she knows of trans people who have stopped taking hormone treatments because they’re so afraid of being visibly trans. Reports have also circulated about trans women struggling to flee because their identity cards still list them as the wrong gender.

While many have made the difficult decision to flee to safety, others have said they will fight for their country’s freedom if the need arises.

“I’ll take any action I can – I’ll take my arms and I will fight,” Vira Chernygina, president of lesbian organisation WA Sphere, told PinkNews in March.

“We don’t have an opportunity to go back or escape somewhere, we have just one way and that’s to win. It’s the Ukrainian spirit.”

War leaves your soul riddled with countless holes

Franz, a trans teenager and university student, told PinkNews in March he hoped to volunteer to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression.

He also spoke of the intense pain he feels as he watches his country tormented by its oppressors.

“War leaves your soul riddled with countless holes, from days stolen, from panicked messages, from thousands of graves that shouldn’t exist,,” he said.

“It still hurts to tears when it’s people you never knew.”

Freedom is Ukraine’s principle value

As Ukraine marks its independence day, it’s never been as important for the world to row in behind the embattled country – to show support, to condemn Russian colonisation, and to stand in solidarity with their queer siblings.

To mark independence day, Kyiv Pride described Ukraine as the country of the “free, strong and brave” in a social media post.

“Remember that freedom is our main Ukrainian value. We will save freedom – we will save the state. Glory to Ukraine!”

Six months into Putin’s war, that message has never felt so vital.

PinkNews is raising money for queer refugees, including people displaced by the war in Ukraine, through its the LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign.

The goal is to raise £50,000, with funds dispersed to OutRight Action International’s LGBTIQ Ukraine Emergency Fund and to Micro Rainbow, a charity that supports LGBTQ+ refugees in the UK.