Queer Ukrainian couple fighting side-by-side say they’re ready to die defending home from Putin

On 24 February 2022, LGBTQ+ couple Oleksandr Zhugan and Antonina Romanova watched from their apartment in Kyiv as news broke that Russia had invaded Ukraine’s eastern borders.

The next morning, after spending the night in their bathroom, they decided to join Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces. “We looked at each other and said: ‘OK, we are going to defend Ukraine,’ Zhugan recalls.

Neither Zhugan, a 37-year-old gay man, nor his partner Romanova, a 37-year-old trans non-binary person who uses she/her pronouns, had any previous military experience.

Although Ukraine’s military service is compulsory, both were exempt: “Antonina had health issues, and my parents are people with disabilities, when my parents divorced I had to be my mum’s caretaker,” says Zhugan.

The couple are speaking from the canteen in their barracks, dressed in Khaki uniforms and sharing a pair of headphones. The two often patrol opposite areas around Kyiv, so getting together for an interview is also an excuse to meet up.

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