Men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been banned from leaving Ukraine. As a result, some trans women are being denied the right to flee as well.
A report by The Guardian detailed stories of trans women who Ukrainian officials declared to be “men,” telling them they were required to stay in Ukraine and fight.
Related: Meet the refugees feeling the Russian invasion of Ukraine
While trans people do have legal recognition in Ukraine, it is an incredibly difficult process to obtain accurate legal documents. As such, many trans women who are trying to cross the border don’t have legal documents identifying them as women. And even those that do are running into trouble.
“Martial law says all males are obliged to serve in the military, so they can’t leave the country,” explained Olena Shevchenko, chair of Ukrainian LGBTQ organization Insight. “Technically, the law applies to trans people as well, including both certified trans men and trans women who had not changed their documents. But it sounds like Ukrainian border guards are preventing even trans people with a valid certificate reflecting their new gender from leaving Ukraine, and nobody knows why.”
One of those women is Judis, who is legally female on her birth certificate. And yet guards at the border subjected her to a physical examination, decided she was a man, and would not let her enter Poland.
“One of the guards said, ‘You’re a guy, so get the hell out of here,’ and told me I should be grateful they didn’t call the police, even though I have a legally valid document that states I am female,” Judis said.
She added that she felt like she was treated like “some kind of animal,” with the guards “wondering, ‘what are you?'”
Judis is from Svatove and fled to Kyiv before her town was taken by Russia.
“As soon as I arrived in a village near the capital, my grandma’s house in Svatove was destroyed by a missile. I had no money and lived in a basement in a village on the outskirts of Kyiv. One day, a rocket hit about 150 meters from the house I was living in. Since then, I have had nightmares about how my limbs were blown off by a bomb.”
24-year-old Alice, a trans woman, and her non-binary wife, Helen, were also both barred from leaving Ukraine.
“[Border guards] took us to a building near the border crossing,” Alice said. “There were three officers in the room. They told us to take off our jackets. They checked our hands, arms, checked my neck to see if I had an Adam’s apple. They touched my breasts. After examining us, border guards told us we were men. We tried to explain our situation but they didn’t care.”
There have reportedly been dozens more cases like Judis, Alice, and Helen’s. Trans women not only fear for their lives due to the violence happening all around them, but also due to the Russian government’s attitude toward LGBTQ people.
While Ukraine still has a long way to go, it has made more progress than Russia, where LGBTQ people continue to be actively persecuted.
The country is infamous for its “gay propaganda” law, which was signed by Putin in June 2013 and prohibits the distribution/marketing of any LGBTQ content deemed “harmful” to minors.
And in Chechnya, a Russian republic, head of state Ramzan Kadyrov has spent years overseeing a horrific “purge” of LGBTQ people, during which gay men and transgender people have been tortured and murdered at the hands of authorities.
The U.S. has also revealed that Russia has a “kill list” of Ukrainians it plans to murder or detain. The list includes several LGBTQ people.