A month after our exclusive interview with a gay soldier on the front line of war in Ukraine, we check in with other gay men whose lives have been disrupted by conflict. For Anton, who left his job as an IT specialist to man a checkpoint with his boyfriend, life will never be the same.
Warning This report contains distressing images and nudity
“After this war I will be a completely different person because there are a lot of things inside me that changed and they will never go back.”
I can only hear Anton’s voice through my headphones, distorted by the poor internet connection. I’m at home in London and he’s calling me from his home in Ukraine, where he’s been able to return for a quick break.
But despite the fuzz of the bad line, I can hear quite clearly the intense anger in Anton’s voice as he describes the atrocities taking place in his country.
After Russian troops withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv this month, the scale of the alleged war crimes which took place during their occupation has been laid bare.
In the town of Bucha, civilians were found shot dead with their hands tied behind their backs. Many continue to flee but for Anton and his boyfriend, leaving wasn’t an option.
Anton was an IT specialist before the war, but now guards a military checkpoint side-by-side with his boyfriend. They decided to stay after seeing the devastation caused by the Russian invasion on day one.
“Before all these events, I was able to feel empathy to any person but if I could have a chance to kill [any] of the invaders I would do it in a very sophisticated way,” Anton says.
“I can barely take it. Watching the news and observing the crimes against humanity. If I have a chance I will burn all of them.
“The only thing we are waiting for and the only thing which is giving us hope and strength is imagining the victory day. I can’t imagine how happy I will be on that day. It’s kind of waiting for the best thing of your life to happen.”
When the war began on February 24, Anton and his boyfriend hurriedly packed their bags and briefly considered fleeing the country.
But watching a shell explode above them in the sky later that night made them decide to stay, and despite having no military experience, do their bit to help.
“On the first day of war we had a meeting of our men of our town,” Anton says. “There was a massive explosion in the sky right above us and people just started running or hiding or falling down and screaming.
“At that moment I understand, I cannot leave this place. We are staying here and doing our best to finish this war as soon as possible.”
This war has made us so close to each other. This situation is [an] absolutely new experience in our relationship.
Guarding their checkpoint is a relatively combat-free experience, but Anton and his partner’s work has helped the war effort in other ways.
One on occasion, they stopped a car full of people who turned out to be Russians operating in support of the invading forces.
These seemingly minor interventions can have huge impacts on the war effort. So too is their work together having a positive impact on their relationship.
Anton adds: “We are always together, making decisions together. We are on the same shift on our checkpoint and we support each other because this war has made us so close to each other. This situation is [an] absolutely new experience in our relationship.
“We were quite happy together. We are open gay people for our relatives, friends, even colleagues. We were able to live ordinary lives and without any inconveniences related to our sexual orientation.”
Ukraine says the country’s humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating, and have called repeatedly on the international community to investigate war crimes being committed by Russian troops.
As the weeks of this savage war wear on, TIM News is learning of more stories of brave gay men fighting for the sanctity of their sovereign nation. But for them it’s also a fight to the death against a homophobic regime for their right to live their lives as gay men.
“The most valuable thing for each person is to realise who you are,” Anton adds. “It doesn’t matter in what country you were born or where you live at this moment. That’s the thing I am doing here and that’s the reason I didn’t leave my country when the war started. I feel this is my place and this is my task to resolve.”
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