LGBTQ troops and vets go to war with homophobia in Ukraine

The silence inside a makeshift cinema in the heart of Kyiv was shattered with the crash of a windowpane. Fireworks flashed. Homophobic attackers were attempting to besiege the screening of a film about the lives of LGBTQ people. The assailants threw tear gas and pyrotechnics. A member of the audience jumped up onto the windowsill and began throwing the projectiles back onto the street — shocking the men outside, who quickly ran away. That man was Viktor Pylypenko, a former member of the Ukrainian army’s anti-terror detail in Donbass and the founder of a federation for equal rights for LGBTQ communities. Now a trim 34-year-old sporting a hoodie and earrings like a proper big-city hipster, Pylypenko was a volunteer in the Donbass Battalion during intense fighting against separatists in eastern Ukraine from 2014 to 2016. On the front, comrades called him the “Frenchman,” on account of his work as a trained translator of English and French. In the summer of 2018, Pylypenko became the first Ukrainian soldier to publicly declare his homosexuality. “It was scary of course, like stepping into the unknown,” he said. Pylypenko had kept the fact that he liked men to himself, not telling the soldiers with whom he shared the trenches.