Petro Zherukha is reserved and soft-spoken, and not the usual kind of man you would expect to see in military uniform. Until last year, he spent his time debating at a book club, playing chess, and, above all, playing music, as he was studying at the music academy in Lviv. Now he is a volunteer in the Ukrainian army.
Petro has made a similar life-change to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, but another detail made his journey specific: he is homosexual, and in war, this brings complications. The issues are not social: in many interviews, Ukrainian gay and lesbian soldiers have said how they do not experience discrimination either from their comrades, or from their superiors. On the contrary, when you see people from different walks of life defending the same values as you, taking the same risks as you, and suffering as you do, this builds loyalty. The problems start when homosexuals move from the field of battle to the field of law.
In Ukraine, only relatives can visit a person in intensive care, identify the remains in a morgue, or be the legal representative of the deceased. A gay couple may live together for 30 years ― but legally they are strangers. Petro wants to change this. He is pushing for a new law on civil partnerships for same-sex couples ― a more inclusive alternative to what his country has traditionally considered a family.
“Now I’m sitting on a bag of sugar in a house under shelling,” Petro wrote in a post asking for support for the petition to pass the law, “My private life is on pause, but I still think this law is timely. I am fighting for an Ukraine where there is no discrimination, and where everyone can defend their relationships.”
Within five days, the petition gathered 14,000 signatures. Parliament is expected to discuss the draft in the spring. The legal space in Ukraine is still lagging behind people’s attitudes and experiences, but society is bringing change.