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Trans soldier's attack highlights challenges faced by LGBT Ukrainians

Participants march with a rainbow flag during the LGBT Pride parade in Kharkiv, Ukraine. 15 September 2019
Participants march with a rainbow flag during the LGBT Pride parade in Kharkiv, Ukraine. 15 September 2019 Copyright Andrew Kravchenko/Andrew Kravchenko
Copyright Andrew Kravchenko/Andrew Kravchenko
By Una Hajdari
Published on Updated
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A transgender soldier of the Ukrainian armed forces was attacked while on leave in Lviv, highlighting the struggles faced by the LGBT community.

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Hanna Mark was a soldier in the Ukrainian armed forces well before the Russian full-scale invasion launched last year.

As a transgender woman, Hanna is one of the many Ukrainians of all backgrounds and profiles who have decided to join the struggle against Russia’s expansionist aims in its neighbouring country.

LGBT Ukrainians, minorities, those on the left and right of the political spectrum have all taken part in the fighting ever since the first invasion was launched in 2014. Some carry a unicorn patch to highlight their LGBT identity.

Hanna was on leave from the army in the western city of Lviv to attend her mother’s funeral and speaking on the phone with her boyfriend when an unknown assailant knocked her down and kicked her while she was on the ground.

The incident occurred on 15 August, and since then there has been widespread outcry for the case to be thoroughly investigated.

Part of the attack was captured by a bystander and posted on social media.

“I am just at a loss for words,” she said in a post following the attack, showing bruises on her face and a bloodied nose.

“This is how we treat people who defend our country. Only because she shows herself as she thinks she should. Well done,” Hanna added.

Helen was targeted by transphobic individuals in the past. A random passerby grabbed her and shouted abuse in her face, and on another occasion, she was pepper-sprayed in the face.

Kyiv Pride responded to the attack and urged authorities to investigate this "terrible case".

Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved
People rally a few days prior to the International Transgender Day of Remembrance in honour of those murdered due to transphobia. 15 November 2018Efrem Lukatsky/Copyright 2018 The AP. All rights reserved

Fighting both Russians and prejudice

Ukraine did not have limits on LGBT soldiers joining the army, but incidents of homophobia were reported in the past.

According to Union of the LGBT Military, an organisation established in 2018 by an openly gay veteran of the Ukrainian armed forces in the Donbas, somewhere between 2% and 7% of the servicepeople are part of the community.

The Union represents both those who are open and closeted about their identity, and aims to defend “Ukraine from the Russian invasion on the frontline, but also defending democracy and equality for all citizens of Ukraine.”

They encourage LGBT soldiers to come out, and feature their stories on their website.

Next door in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has supported harsh anti-LGBT legislation in the country and often decried attempts by the West to erode its “traditional Russian values”.

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This has made it easier for Ukrainian advocacy groups to draw a line between fighting Russia not just as the aggressor, but also for its treatment of vulnerable groups.

While same-sex marriages are not recognised in Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada is considering expanding full rights to LGBT servicepeople, which would mean that the partners of these soldiers would be granted the same protections regarding issues of inheritance and medical and other needs if the soldiers get killed or wounded fighting Moscow forces.

Transitioning during war

Ukraine currently requires transgender individuals to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, or distress caused by one’s registered sex at birth not matching their gender identity, in order for their identity to be reflected in their documents.

This is a particularly tricky issue considering Ukraine is under martial law and mobilisation. Adult men are subject to conscription and forbidden from leaving the country, making it harder for transgender women who do not possess the right documents from going out of Ukraine.

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A conscription officer can grant a trans woman the right to leave the country if they are declared unfit to serve due to gender dysphoria, which also requires substantial paperwork and numerous meetings with doctors.

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