How Kyiv’s L.G.B.T.Q. Community Found Shelter from the Russian Invasion.

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06/14/2022

“The scariest thing was waking up,” Jul Sirous told me about the first couple of weeks after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in February. “What if you learn that they broke Kyiv’s defenses overnight?” Sirous, who is thirty-six, and their partner, Olya Onypko, who is thirty-seven, own a condo in a high-rise apartment complex on the outskirts of Kyiv, just east of where the front line lay for all of March. The first day of the war, when Russian shells hit Kyiv before sunrise, residents of the complex gathered in the courtyard. Then the men went to sign up for Territorial Defense, and the women set up a bomb shelter and first-aid center in the basement. “For the first week, we lived on adrenaline,” Onypko said. Then fear verging on despair started getting to them. One by one, their neighbors began leaving. Onypko and Sirous met five years ago, at a summer retreat for civil-society activists. Onypko, a masseuse who used to be a bank administrator, and Sirous, who works remotely as an English-language tech-support agent for a multinational company, were active in L.G.B.T.Q. organizations in their home cities of Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv, respectively. They were long-distance partners for two years before both moving to Kyiv, where they became involved with KyivPride, an L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy group that organizes the annual Pride festival and Equality March. (The event will not be held this year, because mass gatherings are banned under martial law, but the group’s staff is joining Warsaw Pride’s march in Poland.)

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