Ukraine, one year on: Queer Ukrainian who fled war explains why they returned to Kyiv

A year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, people are still woken by the sound of air raid sirens in the night.

Curfews remain in place in cities such as the capital, Kyiv, meaning people can’t go out after 11pm unless they’re making their way to a bomb shelter. 

Those are the everyday reminders that the country is still under attack from Russia. The war that began on 24 February, 2022 is still raging. Lives are still being lost and Vladimir Putin’s violent campaign shows no sign of easing.

“I feel angry and tired,” Edward Reese, communications officer for Kyiv Pride, tells PinkNews as the country marks the sad anniversary.

“We really want Russia to get out of our country as soon as possible. We want victory. We know we will win this war, that we will have our victory, but it’s definitely very hard to go through all of the things that we go through – from the death of our close ones to bombings. 

“But we are not scared. We are tired, angry and active.” 

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Watching the war in Ukraine from a distance was ‘difficult’

Like many others, Edward fled the country when war broke out – in his case, travelling to Copenhagen, in Denmark – in search of safety and security.

But watching the war unfold from a distance was “very difficult”.

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Edward Reese of Kyiv Pride. He is pictured with short hair and earrings and is wearing a cardigan and a t-shirt.
Edward Reese, Kyiv Pride’s communications officer. (Natalia Zhukova/Supplied)

“[Denmark] is a peaceful place, but my heart and soul were in Ukraine. It was such a big dissonance: I would go to my office and there were happy Danish people but I [was] thinking about my home town being destroyed or the people [who] died yesterday.”

In October, even as Russia continued bombarding Ukraine, Edward returned to Kyiv. 

“I couldn’t stay anywhere besides Ukraine,” he explains. “I know that there are a lot of people like me who are returning now and we feel what home is, even if we didn’t before. 

“I didn’t [see] Ukraine as my home so much before I left. The national idea is growing, togetherness is growing, and it has to grow because it’s one of the main things we need to win.

“They [the Russians] know it, and their propaganda – which works stealthily in Ukraine – is trying to dissolve Ukrainians. It’s trying to destroy this togetherness. That’s why we have to keep it and work on it even more.” 

Edward is also holding on to his anger – it helps him feel hope for a better future, free from Russian aggression.

Edward Reese of Kyiv Pride. He is pictured outdoors sitting on the ground by a fence wearing a black puffer jacket. He has green hair.
Edward Reese returned to Kyiv after escaping to Denmark. (Natalia Ponomarova/Supplied)

“It might sound strange but when I hear news about some new Russian soldiers dead on the frontline, it makes me happy because it means we’re getting closer to victory.

“The thought of the future really helps – hope really helps. Understanding that one day it will be over and one day we will rebuild Ukraine, we will be happy, we will have the Pride march in Kyiv, and we will do everything we want.”

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‘Hard to predict’

In the meantime, Edward and other activists are working hard to make sure their community stays afloat. They live to see their country free from war again.

Before Russia’s invasion, Kyiv Pride was focused on organising the annual march, but the war has changed everything. Today, Kyiv Pride operates a shelter for LGBTQ+ people and their families, where they can stay safe while looking for a new job or a new home.

They’ve also been providing mental health support in the form of weekly groups, with volunteer psychologists, and helping people learn new skills so they can earn a living.

Edward Reese of Kyiv Pride pictured in Copenhagan.
Edward Reese in Copenhagen. (Supplied)

“We know that what they want to destroy Ukraine and occupy our country as they did with Crimea nine years ago,” Edward says.

“They have not been successful in that. They lost the territories they occupied this year and now mostly what they do is try to destroy civilians with rockets.”

When war broke out, nobody knew how long it would last or how what it would take for Putin to back away. A year on, the future is as uncertain as ever.

“It’s hard to predict anything,” Edward says. “We have been fighting with Russia for centuries and we want this war to stop… we just hope that we will be able to live our peaceful lives. 

“Ukraine is a very homey, nice country, we don’t want to fight anyone. We just want to live our lives.

“I hope it will go this way, but the first thing is that we have to defeat Russia – it’s the main hope and the main goal.” 

You can donate to support Kyiv Pride’s work here.

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