In a four-bedroom apartment found among a row of typical Eastern bloc-styled buildings in one of Kiev’s sleeping districts, a group of strangers from around Ukraine is making a fresh start in a place they now consider home. They call their newly acquired residence “The Shelter,” a safe space where they are free to be themselves — a mix of ages, backgrounds and genders congregating under one roof, because their sexual orientation left them with nowhere else to go.
“I’ve known I was gay since I was a child,” said Nik Litvinov, 22, who has been at The Shelter on and off since January of this year.
“My parents died, and the rest of my family died with my parents,” he told NBC News. “They know that I’m gay and don’t accept me. That’s why I came into The Shelter.”
Ukraine is still a young country when it comes to recognizing the rights of its LGBTQ citizens, a situation perhaps comparable to the fight for sexual equality in the West during the late 1960s.
While it was one of the first post-Soviet countries to decriminalize sex between two men — a move taken to rid the stigma preventing those with HIV from seeking medical aid — Ukraine today lacks the legal tools and legislative reforms for LGBTQ people to live openly in society without fear of discrimination.
In 2016, there were 276 documented cases of violent and discriminatory acts of homophobia and transphobia, as stated by Nash Mir, one of the few organizations tracking hate crimes against the Ukrainian LGBTQ community.
“There have been a lot of moments where I’ve feared for my safety,” Litvinov said, having grown up in the now self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist pro-Russian state in eastern Ukraine, where he was bullied to the point of attempted suicide.
“If it wasn’t for The Shelter,” he said, “I’m afraid to think what would have happened to my life.” Read more via NBC