In Face of War, Everyone is Equal: War Veterans Who Come Out Publicly
This is a story about Viktor Pylypenko, who became the first war veteran in Ukraine to come out publicly. He disclosed his sexual orientation in the “We Were Here” project by photographer Anton Shebetko. First, Viktor posed for pictures in a balaclava, like the others. But later he revealed his identity to the public
War veteran Viktor Pylypenko kept a children’s drawing close to him during combat, inside his helmet. It served as an amulet.
“When children write to you: “Dear soldier, I wish you victory. Stay alive!” And you keep it in your helmet … This helped me survive and defeat the enemy,” Pylypenko said.
On the front line, he served as a combat medic and an operator of a grenade launcher in the “Donbas” volunteer battalion.
Viktor fought in a major battle, for the village of Shyrokyne in 2015. It’s located near the city of Mariupol and was seen as a strategic point. Ukrainian forces launched a surprise offensive and managed to push back the Russian-led forces from the city limits. Dozens of soldiers were killed or wounded.
A piece of shrapnel hit Viktor’s friend Kostiantyn.
“Just a few minutes before it happened, he said that volunteers had sent him a coffee pot so that he could make coffee over a campfire. He was happy about that. Then I went to bed, and the explosion happened. When I rushed to him to provide first aid, he was already dead,” Viktor said.
Viktor left the military in 2016 and went back to his civilian life. He came out as gay to his parents soon after, he says they were shocked at first but then accepted him.
In 2018, he took part in the project “WE WERE HERE”, along with other LGBT soldiers and volunteers. At this exhibition, Viktor decided to show his face – and come out publicly.
“When you come out, you face certain risks. But when you are part of the military, we went through war. What are we supposed to be afraid of? There were attacks. Not so serious ones. We survived. We will survive, if we face more attacks. We will resist,” Pylypenko added.
This movement brought together Viktor and Nastia Konfederat, who also served in the armed forces. Nastya, says in school she was openly intolerant when it came to the LGBT community, recently she came out as lesbian.
“I am an administrator of the LGBT military group on Facebook. I am openly lesbian now. Just a year ago, I said: “Don’t lie to yourself. You don’t want to get married.” People of both genders are wonderful, and they are valuable for their intellectual traits. But my nature is being a woman,” Nastia said.
Nastia describes her experience when she first joined the military. The recruitment officer kept repeating a phrase she cannot forget.
“You are a girl! Just be a nurse! I said: I am a military topographer, I am an instructor. I can show you how to do things, I can teach you something,” she said.
Nastia went on to join a cartography unit and airborne reconnaissance as a volunteer. She was on the front line for over seven months. During this time, Nastia says, she did not face discrimination. This is because all Ukrainian soldiers regardless of their gender or sexual orientation had one common goal.
“To put an end to the war… And I think it must end with our victory. We must not retreat. No way!” Nastia added.
“When Ukraine becomes successful, Putin’s throne in Moscow will be shattered and will fall,” Viktor said.
Now, Viktor and Nastia are doing their best to improve human rights in Ukraine and make the LGBT community visible and accepted. Along with the Fulcrum UA NGO [Точка опори], they are working on a project to better understand the risks and the needs of members of the LGBT community in the military.