The personal story of Pavlo, now an anti-aircraft gunner operating a MANPADS. Before the war, he studied psychology and worked with various groups of people: from little kids to adults.

After I moved out of my parent’s house to Lviv (a city in Western Ukraine), I met my best friend Julia. She helped me to understand better who I really was. Then I began to think: “What should I do next with who I am? What should I do next with my behavior? What should I do next with my, so to speak, non-traditional sexual orientation?”. But I don’t know why it was called untraditional in Ukraine. It seemed stupid to me.

So I’ve stumbled upon Hornet and, by chance, met such a wonderful girl as Julia there. She wrote to me, “Hello! What’s up?” and we met. She happened to be the founder of Zahidshans – it is an LGBT community. I met her and we became friends.

Together with her, we’ve started educational work. We often went to all sorts of symposia. We also went to various events to inform people that queer people are “normal”, that you can communicate with us, make friends, love us and there is nothing wrong, terrible, and so on.

So once I said to Julia I want to do a public coming out and admit to everyone that I’m gay, that there’s nothing wrong with that, that it’s okay, after all. So she helped and told me how to do it right. Then I came out on all social networks, everywhere I was registered (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on).

Of course, not everyone accepted it. There was a lot of hate and bullying. One guy was like “Think about it, maybe it will pass? Maybe you will outgrow it somehow? ” and so on. And it is very difficult to talk to such people. I also explained to them that it is impossible to outgrow it at all. Because it remains in you, you were born, and you will die with it.

When the war started, I told my gay friend I wanted to join the army. He answered that I will be beaten there, it will be awful. I listened to him and the first thought I got in my head was why are people so afraid of this army? As if it’s not an army as if it’s a concentration camp.

This thought was swirling in my head for a long time. And then I decided that I finally wanted to join the army. I want to dispel this stereotype that we have terrible hazing in Ukraine. I have more or less done it. Because I had no hazing there at all.

In the 2nd month of service, I’ve already got a friend named Andrew, he had a higher rank than we call here, he was my “grandfather”. Andrew was the first to know that I was gay. At one point, we were sent to work in the field in one team. I chatted with him for a long time while working, and at some point, I thought: “Now or never.”

I told him, “Listen, how do you treat gays?” He said, “I think that’s fine.” But I felt he was very confused when he heard this question, he somehow pushed it away. So I told him, “Listen, I’m gay. What should I do with it?”.

So he looked at me and said, “Listen, I didn’t know gays are such cool people.” So I dispelled the myth to another person that gays are some terrible people, that they can’t communicate etc. Many people think that if you are gay, you automatically become an “outcast”. But Andrew accepted me for who I was, he was the first person in the army to know my truth.

Once I forgot to turn off my screen when some guy sent me his nudes in a massager. Guys from my team spotted it and started asking weird random questions. But at some point, I told them I am who I am, and they just have to deal with it. And they did! They saw I’m a good person and other stuff stopped mattering to them that much.

This is why actually I really like our Ukrainian mentality. I noticed that our people first look if you have a good character. And if you’re not a dickhead in real life then it doesn’t matter to them, who you’re sleeping with. So in two months I never heard these stupid questions again.

When people see me in military uniform and know that I am gay, they just take pride in it. They don’t care who you are, gay or not. You are defending our Ukraine, you are defending our sovereignty and territorial integrity. And you are fighting for freedom. They do not have any more questions. They don’t care.

I was once speaking to a person we served together, who didn’t know who I was. When I said, “Well, I’m gay,” he looked at me like that, with such big eyes, and he went, “Well, you’re beautiful, you fight for yourself, and you fight for everyone”.

To read more honest true stories of both LGBTQ+ and straight communities and hear advice from a mental health counselor on every story check out a new educational online course LGBTQ+Me. Embracing Our Differences.

Created together with UKRAINEPRIDE and BetterMe app, this course is aimed to help people with different gender identities and sexual orientations find common ground and understand each other on a more profound level. The personal stories are provided by Ukrainians who have lived the experience, which will be relevant to any LGBTQ+ person in any corner of the world.

To find more info on the project click here.