As Ukraine’s LGBTQ soldiers fight on the front line, acceptance grows in the conservative country

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04/16/2023

KYIV, Ukraine — On a riotous Instagram profile featuring pole-dancing, cross-dressing and fierce makeup, a picture of Ivan Honzyk in high heels and stockings next to an image of him in military uniform has gotten the most likes by far. The junior sergeant’s posts are a bold statement in socially conservative Ukraine, where pride parades were often attacked before the war and swaths of the country are occupied by forces loyal to Russia, one of the world’s most conspicuously homophobic states. But as more members of the LGTBQ community fight on the front lines, the greater visibility of gay and lesbian military personnel appears to be a catalyst for acceptance in wider society, and opinion polls show attitudes are changing. Honzyk, 27, said his uncompromising self-expression, combined with his work in places like Bakhmut — the city in eastern Ukraine that has seen some of the bloodiest battles of the war, while serving as a potent symbol of the country’s defiance — is helping to further the cause of LGBTQ rights in the country faster than any pride marches could.

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