Why Ukraine’s LGBT+ Soldiers Wear a Unicorn Badge on Their Uniforms

Oleksandr Zhygan and Antonina Romanova, members of the Territorial Defense, are a couple and wear the Unicorn insignia on their uniforms. (REUTERS)

As volunteer fighters Oleksandr Zhuhan and Antonina Romanova pack up to return to active duty, they gaze at the unicorn insignia that gives their uniform a colorful distinction, representing their status as an LGBT+ couple within the Ukrainian Army.

Members of Ukraine’s LGBT+ community signing up to repel the Russian invasion have begun sewing the image of the mythical animal onto their epaulettes just below the national flag.

The practice dates back to the 2014 conflict when Russia invaded and then annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, “when many people said there were no gay people in the military,” explained actor, director and drama teacher Zhuhan as he and Romanova dressed up. his apartment for his second three-month combat rotation.

“So they (referring to Ukraine’s LGBT+ community) chose the unicorn because it’s like a ‘non-existent’ fantastical creature.”

Zhuhan and Romanova, who identifies as non-binary and moved to the capital from Crimea after being displaced in 2014, met through their theater work. Neither of them had been trained in the use of weapons, but after spending a couple of days hiding in their bathroom at the start of the war, they decided they had to do something.

Oleksandr Zhygan gets emotional when talking about the suffering caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine (REUTERS)
Oleksandr Zhygan gets emotional when talking about the suffering caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine (REUTERS)

“I just remember that at a certain point it became clear that we only had three options: either hide in a bomb shelter, flee and escape, or join the Territorial Defense. We chose the third option. Romanov said. For Zhuhan and Romanova, their vocation gives them an added sense of responsibility.

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“Because what Russia does is not only take our territories and kill our people. They want to destroy our culture and we cannot allow this to happen,” Zhuhan said.

Living with the other soldiers

The first tour of duty around Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, about 135 km from the port of Odessa, changed their lives. They fought in the same unit and found it terrifying, Zhuhan contracted pneumonia, but, the pair say, his fellow fighters accepted them. “There was no aggression, no intimidation… It was a bit unusual for the others. But, over time, people started calling me Antonina, some even used my pronoun ella,” Romanova said.

There were plenty of pats on the back as they joined their new unit at Kyiv Central Station for a second three-month stint. Some members of the Zhuhan and Romanova team knew, but the commanders were not at the station. “I’m a little worried about that,” he said, the mood turning somber as the unit headed toward their train as night fell. “I know that in some units, the rules are stricter… It wasn’t like that in our (first) unit.”

Protesters from the LGBT+ collective protest against the Russian invasion in the city of kyiv.
Protesters from the LGBT+ collective protest against the Russian invasion in the city of kyiv.

The unease fades when a commander makes clear his refusal to tolerate homophobia, and a senior officer says that being a good fighter is the only thing important on the front line.Zhuhan later said by phone.

But another fear remains. “What worries me is that in case I am killed during this war, they will not allow Antonina to bury me the way I want to be buried,” Zhuhan said. “They prefer to let my mom bury me with the priest reading silly prayers. But I’m an atheist and I don’t want that.”

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From the days before the invasion, gay, lesbian and trans people in Ukraine had expressed great fear that Putin would capture the country and impose the homophobic and transphobic policies he has established on Russia, and that they have created a real regime of terror for Russian citizens of the LGBT+ community.

Putin codified a ban on same-sex marriage into the constitution last year, almost ten years after passing the so-called “law against homosexual propaganda,” which has effectively erased LGBT+ people from public life in Russia. . The Russian dictator has also backed the current regime in Chechnya, where extermination camps for LGBT+ people have been reported.

This uncertainty has driven hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians from the diverse group into exile – although most have stayed to fight against Russian aggressors, as Lenny Emson, executive director of Kyiv Pride, the main LGBT + organization in the country, assured Infobae.

(with information from Reuters)

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