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Ukraine soldier calls for marriage equality as war with Russia rages

Scene from Kharkiv Pride, 2021
Scene from Kharkiv Pride, 2021 Photo: Shutterstock

In a gesture as romantic as it is political, a Ukrainian soldier called for marriage equality in her country as war continues to rage with Russia.

“We could die tomorrow,” she lamented.

Anna “Kajhan” Zyablikova, 30, who serves in the 47th Brigade of Ukraine’s armed forces, said same-sex marriage should be legalized in Ukraine, affording LGBTQ+ couples the same legal rights as their heterosexual peers.

“I feel like something is taken from me every time I see one of our soldiers is getting married, as I think of the fact that I can’t do it if I want to do it with a woman,” Zyablikova told the U.K.’s iNews.

“We can die any day,” she added, “so everyone is trying to make all the decisions that are about relationships and communication.”

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, thousands of soldiers in opposite-sex relationships married.

“We have no legal rights to do that, and in the case of war, the inability to do this is a huge psychological issue,” Zyablikova said.

Last summer, a petition demanding the legalization of same-sex marriage was submitted to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who acknowledged in his response, “All people are free and equal in their dignity and rights,” and “the level of a democratic society is measured, among other things, through state policy aimed at ensuring equal rights for all citizens.”

The question of same-sex marriage, however, which would require a change to Ukraine’s Constitution, could not be answered until the war was over, he said.

Zyablikova said joining Ukraine’s Armed Forces and engaging with Russian troops would be harrowing under any circumstances, but being gay added to the pressure. Putin has tried to portray LGBTQ+ combatants as “non-soldiers,” she said, fighting against “pure” Russian troops for their rightful homeland.

“That’s their main fairy tale, which is unfortunately working. It is really exploiting the homophobic narrative.”

Earlier this month, Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun introduced a bill to legalize same-sex partnerships, declaring, “There is no time for hesitation.”

Sovsun cited recent polling in the country indicating “56 percent of Ukrainians support same-sex partnerships”.

“Every day, Ukrainian LGBT military personnel put themselves in danger protecting us,” Sovsun posted to Twitter. “Yet, if they are in relationships, the state does not recognize those.”

Beyond the emotional toll, the absence of a legal union exposes practical concerns. “This means that their partners do not have the same benefits as partners in heterosexual relationships,” Sovson wrote. “If an LGBT military person is wounded, his/her partner would not be able to make decisions about his/her medical treatment.”

While acknowledging Zelensky’s receptiveness to marriage equality, Sovsun said, “The [government] is in no hurry, so I decided to submit a draft law to speed up this process.”

“We must do it immediately. LGBT Ukrainians deserve to have a family. Every day can be their last. Just like for any other Ukrainian.”

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