Ukraine, one year on: Trans teen ready to fight for his country feared being buried under wrong name

An illustration of a young man in front of the Ukraine flag

Yakiv, 18, was about to embark on his medical transition when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, 2022.

Facing war, he decided that things were too uncertain for him to move forward – he no longer knew if he could be safely out as a trans man.

A year on, Yakiv has had to reassess time and time again.

“I realised that I could not really afford to push some things back because, at the time at least, the situation looked extremely unstable,” Yakiv explains.

“Now I’m not sure they’re hoping for any quick resolutions – you do need to still live your life and try to very carefully and tentatively plan for the future.

“For me personally, I do not want to be buried under somebody else’s name, and I felt like I couldn’t really afford to sit in the closet anymore. I really rapidly came out to almost everybody in my life.

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Ukrainians demonstrate outside Downing Street against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A woman is pictured holding up a sign which says "Ukraine" in blue and yellow writing. She is wearing a scarf in the Ukrainian colours around her neck.
Ukrainians demonstrate outside Downing Street against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)

For many in Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community, difficult choices had to be made after Russia invaded. Some questioned whether they should flee to safer territories, while others found themselves wondering if they could live openly and authentically while the country was at war.

In the end, pushing ahead with his medical transition was practical as well as necessary for Yakiv’s wellbeing – he knows it’s possible he could be needed at some stage to fight for his country.

“We like to joke around and say everybody eventually will be in trenches at this point,” he says.

“Nobody is born for war. Nobody wants to be a soldier. Everybody has something better to do with their lives but when it comes to that choice between your personal needs and wants and dreams and everybody else’s, decisions need to be made, sadly.” 

Ukrainian soldier waves Ukrainian national flag while standing on top of an armoured personnel carrier on April 8, 2022.
Ukrainian soldier waves Ukrainian national flag while standing on top of an armoured personnel carrier on April 8, 2022. (Alexey Furman/Getty)

Ukraine war ‘sucks the joy out of life’

Yakiv is prepared to fight for Ukraine because he still feels spiritually close to his home country, even though he’s now based in Slovakia. He has managed to visit home several times since the war began, even when his parents discouraged him from doing so out of fear for his safety. 

Like so many others, Yakiv has seen the blackouts and experienced the curfews firsthand that have come to dominate much of the last year in Ukraine.

“It sucks out the normal joys of life because nobody really gets any rest,” he says.

Because of his personal experience with the war, Yakiv wants the world to sit up and pay attention to Ukraine once again. He has watched on as International attention has dwindled – but people are still dying and ordinary lives are being torn apart.

“I think the worst thing people can do is to get tired and stop caring,” he says.

Ukrainians in Sydney and their supporters gather at Martin Place during the '365 Days Strong' rally and candlelight vigil on February 23, 2023 in Sydney.
Ukrainians in Sydney and their supporters gather at Martin Place during the ‘365 Days Strong’ rally and candlelight vigil on February 23, 2023 in Sydney. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty)

“Usually the attention from news and from the people tends to die out pretty quickly. The problem is, we still need weapons and resources every day.”

Yakiv also believes everybody has a personal stake in the war.

“Whether Ukraine survives or not will have consequences for countries like Moldova, Georgia, Syria, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and so many others,” he says.

Still, Yakiv doesn’t even like to entertain the possibility of a Russian victory – instead, he’s focusing on a better future in Ukraine where queer people can live openly, freely and authentically.

Much has been made of the fact that Ukraine could legalise same-sex marriage after the war.

“That really is a lot more than any of us hoped for,” he says. 

“I think it’s very heartening that, despite the war, some progress continues to be made.” 

At that time, Yakiv was an 18-year-old trans man who was about to embark on his medical transition – but Russian aggression put a stop to that

Speaking to PinkNews shortly after the Russian invasion, Yakiv explained that he had decided to push his medical transition back because

A year on, everything has changed.

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